Finding Life: Summer 2020
Parable of the Sower
Jul 12, 2020
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Spiritual practice: “Anti-Racist examen” written collaboratively by Vernée Wilkinson and Ted Wueste
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.
13:2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
13:3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.
13:4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.
13:5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.
13:6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.
13:7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
13:8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
13:9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
Matthew 13:18 “Hear then the parable of the sower.
13:19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
13:20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;
13:21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
13:22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.
13:23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
About a month ago, my family took a walk into the Beaver Brook Reservation in Belmont. We’re still discovering the areas around us so I was quite happy to find a little stream, a waterfall, a short hiking trail next to water. We stopped on a bridge, with the water rushing underneath us, looking down with awe at the flow. It was mesmerizing. We got quiet, staring down. I looked around and picked a leaf and threw it down from the bridge. My husband was looking down from the other side of the bridge and saw my leaf come out the other way. “I see your leaf!” he claimed with excitement. “Oh yeah?” I answered looking around for another leaf to throw. There was a bush protruding out from the side onto the bridge cement. Big leaves that would float down real good. I grabbed a few more, handed one to my girl Sophia, “throw it, baby!” “Watch for it honey!” I yelled to my husband. “Oh I see it! I see it!” We did this for a while back and forth on the bridge, grabbing leaves, throwing, and looking down the stream on the other side.
A week later I started realizing that I’ve gotten an awful lot of bug bites and I’m itching in like 5-6 different places. I sprayed myself with bug spray, checked for bed bugs, even had the pest control come out and spray our house. But as the days went on the “bug bites” spread, and now they’ve developed into a rash. I made an appointment with my doctor a few days later. She refers me to a dermatologist and they see me a week later. During that week my whole body spread with rashes, some so bad that they are now open wounds, and even to my face. I suffered for over 2 weeks and finally when I saw the dermatologist, she said she thinks it’s poison ivy and prescribed me something that will make me feel better in 24-48 hours. Then I realized, Beaver Brook Reservation! Eugene was like, “yeah I was thinking, yeah I’m not touching that.”
Oh the paths we walk. What we might find and stumble onto. How it might affect us. I never knew the agony of poison ivy. Let this story be a lesson to you. Please be careful!
I think today’s story is a bit of a warning about the paths we might take, and what happens on those paths. It’s one of many parables that Jesus used to teach. It’s often taught in a pretty straightforward manner. There’s 4 kinds of soil that seed is sown on: the path, the rocky ground, among the thorns, and lastly the good soil. And it usually goes like this, the moral of the story. Don’t be like the seeds on the path where the birds can come eat it up. Don’t be like the rocky soil, make sure you get rid of your rocks. Don’t be like the thorny area, get rid of your thorns so it doesn’t choke the plant. Be the good soil. Be the good soil that simply receives it, produces crop and multiplies it a hundred fold, sixty, thirty. Be the right kind of soil.
That’s one way to look at it, which has been a pretty popular exegesis of the text. But that’s the thing, this story, it’s a parable. It’s not all too clear and it’s not meant to be actually. What are parables? They are symbols and metaphors and reveal and conceal. They open up and illustrate but also are a mode of discovery and even some confusion on purpose. In fact, our text today skips from verse 9-18, which is a whole section about the disciples asking Jesus, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” And Jesus goes on for the next 9 verses being extremely cryptic about his message. He says, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you but not them….” Jesus is trying to keep things from some? “Though seeing they do not see, though hearing they do not hear.” “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” What? Yes. I don’t know. Cryptic. But that is the nature of parables and that’s what we have to work with here. So it makes me ponder, is there something else going on?
Because to be honest, I grew up in the church hearing this message. Don’t be like the path. Don’t be the rocky soil. Make sure you’re not choking God’s word with thorns. When I did have worries of the world, or faced trouble, and my faith did shake or wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, the only advice I heard was, don’t be shaken. Don’t lose faith. Don’t worry. And yes, we do need sometimes life’s simple mantras, but sometimes it didn’t work. Sometimes the things I faced were more complicated. And the message I heard through this text was, that something was wrong with me. I wasn’t a good soil. So I prayed for heavy rocks to be lifted. I tried to clear my soil as much as I could. But it never felt good enough, I didn’t know why I wasn’t thriving and struggling, and it only made me blame myself and feel shame for not being good enough of soil.
Thinking back, when I would hear a message like this, needing to apply to my life but facing the world with rocks and thorns, I wasn’t sure how to engage the world or my faith. And a message like this didn’t give me the tools I needed. I faced rocks, troubles and persecution beyond my powers.
My family wasn’t well off. We had this one car that was so old and junky, that when it got cold in the winter time, it could only go about 35 miles per hour, even on the freeway. We’d have to leave the house earlier, making sure to warm up the car, hoping wishing that it wouldn’t break down on the way to school. When it broke down, it was devastation. My mom always freaked out and she’d go into panic mode. I didn’t know why then and always hated the way my mom turned from a lighthearted person to a person met with catastrophe when our car broke down, probably because we didn’t have savings to get the car fixed. She’d argue with the auto repair guy in her broken English, the guy getting frustrated but my mom practically begging him and insisting that he help us out by cutting us a deal. I hated watching it. It was embarrassing and I wish that we had enough money to just pay and get out of there. So did the worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth get in the way of me being a good kid sometimes? Yeah, it did.
Economic hardship, family trauma, racism, sexism, my list of rocks and thorns go on and on that I had no power over and yet was told to fix and somehow produce good crop and bear fruit.
Have you experienced rocks and thorns in your life that’s beyond your control? So heavy that it could not be lifted by pure will power of faith. Or thorns too complex and entangled you weren’t sure how you would lift yourself out of it? Have there been patches of overgrown areas or seasons in your life that felt as if the evil one was snatching away your livelihood, your joy, your faith? What worries of life are choking your hope these days?
Maybe the joy of God’s providence comes only for a short while through someone’s goodness, but short lived because the money runs out. Maybe your career or stability feels unstable because you didn’t have a safety net keeping you grounded, bills piling up like rocks with no root system to support you. Or maybe you feel like you’re standing on a busy path, maybe even a highway, where others are going 80 miles an hour, and you’re alone just spinning, in loneliness, feeling left behind. How do you sow seeds in these seasons of life?
And with the complex world and issues we face today, is this the message God has for us? That if we’re not good soils, we will never bear good fruit?
What if, what if the 4 soils are not a moral comparison, but pictures of the seasons of life, journeys and paths that we may stumble on on our faith walk? What if, these are various pictures of what you might face, what you’re likely to face?
In fact the biblical commentators are not even sure exactly which is which. Let me explain. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, the wording on each is slightly different and confusing which is the seed, the message, and the seed sown, the one who hears the message. There is confusion, which is why the reading is unclear with phrasing like, “he that was sown”, (is it the message that’s sown or the person?) or “this is he who hears the word that which was sown.” Maybe we’re not supposed to identify with one of the 4 soils, but various seeds sown in different environments. Because the gospel was never about what WE do, our merits, our efforts. So why would this story’s moral be, be better soil? No.
And my last question is, this is the parable of the Sower. So, who is Sowing? Is it God? If so, why does this farmer not really know how to farm by scattering seeds on paths, rocky soil, or among thorns. Is this God, a really bad farmer? Here’s what I think. God is not the most efficient farmer, no, but a generous, loving, hopeful farmer, a hopelessly romantic famer, who will scatter the seeds whatever God likes, which is, everywhere. Even on the path, even to the dangerous places, even the most unlikely bad soil places. If the seed is the good news, then no matter where you are, what you are facing in life, what kind of soil you are or what rocks or thorns you may bear, God sows. And maybe part of the faith journey has seasons where things don’t always take root and grow. Maybe it’s an encouragement to us all who are not always bearing awesome fruit, showing us, that in life, there may be times we find ourselves in the busy path caught up, under a rock enduring heavy burden, among thorns bearing scars, and the parable of the sower says, even there I will sow. Sure, good soil is nice, but it might not always be the case. And Jesus gives us this parable to journey through our complicated lives with to say, I will sow in you again and again, relentlessly, foolishly, and you will bear fruit one day. Because the message of the good news is always, not what we do, but what God does, not our merits of how well we garden, but the good news is, God is the great Gardner. That is the seed I pray will be sown to you today, no matter what kind of week you’ve had or you will have, for it is God who sows, nurtures, grows, and gathers with God’s abundant grace pouring into us. May it be so. Let me pray for us.
Generous Loving Farmer, we thank you that you are a constant source of lights, pouring upon us living water, helping us grow. Would you grow us up with resilience, even in the face of adversity in this world, that you know so well. Would you walk with us even through valley of death, parched, no bearing fruit, and reminds us that there, you don’t condemn us saying why haven’t you got fruit. Instead you love us, forgive us, have compassion toward us and move with us through the next season and the next. May we know the ever present power of your love, and walk in that love, no matter what paths we may face today and this week. Pray in Jesus Name. Amen.