Of all of the things that there are to believe about Jesus and his ministry. There are only two things that everyone agrees on. The first is that he was crucified and the second is that he spoke in parables. That’s it. While everyone agrees on these two beliefs, not everyone agrees on why Jesus was crucified, nor the meaning behind every parable. Parables, Frederich Buechner said, are little stories with big meanings. They are not allegories. They are told to teach and to make people think. The son of God does not spoon feed His disciples, He wants them to think about what He teaches. There really isn’t a parable that does not require a high level of pondering. The good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Rich Ruler, and the parable of today – the Parable of the Sower. This parable is unique in that Jesus doesn’t just tell the parable, and leave for the disciples to interpret, He goes and explains what He means. This is the first parable told in all three synoptic Gospels. All of a sudden Jesus is talking about farming. Jesus says “Listen” and launches into this story. There is no context. All of a sudden, He is talking about farming. The odds are 3:1 against the seed becoming a crop for harvest. It’s a story that is all too familiar for the peasant farmer. The seed represented his cash flow. With it he fed his family, paid the rent and tithes and sowed the next year’s crop. It was a system rigged to keep the peasant producing for the land-owner. In Jesus’ time, about 70% of the people were those peasants, tied to land owned by others. A typical harvest at the time was 4-7 times the seed grain. Jesus says that even with ¾ of the seed going to waste, the yield is 30-, 60- and 100-fold. “With such a surplus, the farmer could not only eat and pay his rent, tithes and debts, but even purchase the land, and thus end his servitude.” The subsistence farmer with ears, hears Jesus say that the empire of God is like this: a liberation from oppressive and exploitative relationships, an end to the cycle of poverty and despair. And suddenly we understand why the elite and powerful see Jesus as a threat.
But we are not poor first century, Palestinian farmers. So, how are we to hear this story?
Often, when we read this parable, it goes along with exercise in Sunday school class may be to ask students, what kind of soil are you? That question reminds me of those questions we find on Facebook when the game asks, what Disney Princess are you? We all of course want to be in the good, rich soil and we all know people who are in shallow end of things, or who aren’t rooted in faith at all. But I think this the wrong question to be asking. It’s a question that is ego centric in nature -focusing on the individual. If we want to understand the parable, let’s pay attention to the sower. This parable is not called the a parable of the plants, or the parable of the dirt, it’s called the parable of the sower. – So what do we know about him?
The sower, has all of these seeds, bags and bags full. He does not worry about running out, and we know this because the way he plants his harvest is by throwing the seeds out and letting them fall where they will.
Now I come from a family of gardeners and farmers. Someday I hope to be a gardener, but right now I just try to keep things alive. My mom is a meticulous gardener and every summer when we go to visit, she asks us to walk out to her flower garden so we can see what is blooming. She will say now those are my daisies and those are locks, and those are lily of the valley and those black eye susan will bloom later and I need to cut back here so make room for something there. And then she will bend over and pull out the one little weed in her immaculate garden, and I think about the weeds in around my house and feel a bit sheepish – As she pulls the little weed from her pristine garden she will say, “I like a well-kept garden.” I smile and nod in humility.
In our parable, God, the sower, scatters the seed everywhere, just willy-nilly, some of it goes into rocks and some of it goes in weeds and some of it goes on the path some sinks in to rich soil.
Seed grain was precious. It took a lot of labor to harvest it and separate it from the stalk. Then it was carefully protected from rodents and insects, stored where it would stay dry and not sprout before it could be planted. After all that work to care for the seed -- look what the sower does – he throws it everywhere, on the shrubs and briar patch, on the road, over there in the midst of those birds, and of course, on the field. Any one hearing this story would immediately realize that this sower careless and wasteful - but the last thing God is, is wasteful…. So what’s going on?
But what is it that God would be wasting? How do we understand that seed? Verse 19 refers to the seed as the word. That could mean the words that Jesus teaches, the words of good news. But elsewhere in the New Testament, the Word of God is identified as Jesus himself.
God has sown the Word, which is Jesus, everywhere in the world, in all conditions of life, without regard for how Jesus would be received or rejected, without asking permission or preparing the way for his coming.
Listen: A sower goes out to sow. God sows Jesus all over the world. Jesus comes into human experience, to understand how we grow and learn, our hardships, our deep joys, what grieves us and makes us laugh, all the conditions of our lives.
God sows Jesus recklessly, indiscriminately to everyone, those who worship Him and those who crucify Him, people whose skin is black, brown, red, or white. Jesus is present for senior citizens and juvenile delinquents, for taxpayers and refugee children fleeing violence, for those on all sides of every war. God sows Jesus in reckless, wasteful love which does not stop to consider who deserves it.
A sower goes out to sow. Jesus’ life is like that of a seed. It is a surprisingly weak image, especially for those who expect God to appear in forms of earthly might. Seeds are small. They fall into the ground and get covered with dirt. They “die” in order to produce fruit.
A sower goes out to sow. The workings of God’s empire are a mystery, like the mystery of the life cycle itself. The Word sown into the world doesn’t look like that much. It can be hard to see. The Word works in dark and hidden places. The seed falls on good soil and rocky soil and no one can predict where the seed will take root and flourish.
A sower goes out to sow, flinging precious seed around with holy abandon. Rev. Tom Long says “Therefore, the church is called to 'waste itself,' to throw grace around like there is no tomorrow, precisely because there is a tomorrow, and it belongs to God"
The seed, let’s call that God’s word, or the grace of Jesus Christ, falls in places that gets choked out by greed and evil. It falls onto places that sinks in a little ways and then dies. It lands on solid ground and gets picked up by birds and carried away. I don’t think God is being careless. I think he is being generous. He knows His word is going to fall in the tangled weeds of sin and greed and be so covered up that you may not even see what He planted, but guess what, it’s still there. He know His word will land in shallow places that will take deep root, but guess what, it’s still there. God’s word, God’s grace is everywhere, even in the dried up places, if we just pay attention. And thank God for His generosity, because sometimes our faith is shallow, and sometimes its dried up and sometimes it’s taken consumed by the weeds of the world and sometimes we are ready to soak in God’s love and we produce the most beautiful outcomes. God, the faithful sower, keeps throwing out grace and love.
The odds are 3:1 against the seed, and yet, brothers and sisters, here is the good news: In the empire of God, despite all appearances to the contrary, the seed will bear fruit, abundantly, and the harvest will come, some thirty-, sixty- even a hundred-fold.
Those of us with ears, . . . let us hear.