Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”
18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When 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. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet 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. 22As 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. 23But 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.”
In my experience, seeds are fascinating. They experience of geotropism, which is a term I just learned this year from someone in this congregation, which means that they always know which way to grow. They always grow up, no matter how they happen to fall into the hole or furrow. They pretty much always do what they do well – if you wait too long to get a tomato plant out into the garden, it will start sprouting and bearing fruit, even if you’re not ready because, well, that’s what tomato plants do. Those are some of the physical things that seeds do.
But there is also a spiritual element of seeds, as well. Regardless of the type of seed, whether tomato or petunia or oak, seeds have a spiritual element. Seeds offer a promise of a future in which the world is fed, beauty is enjoyed, and protection is provided. Seeds are often scattered on their own, without our help, and they grow where they land. Seeds help us imagine a world in which the abundance of a stalk of corn, for example, is a metaphor for the abundance of God’s love.
It seems that Jesus also saw seeds as more than just a means to an end. In the parable of the sower, we see a lot of action going on and a lot of characters at play. The sower, the weeds, the birds, and the seeds all play a part in this story and none of them are in the story by accident. So what can we glean from this story:
First, we examine the sower. The sower is sowing by hand, which is a hard task in the overbearing sun. He or she carries in the bag of seed the bread of the future, the food that will be used to feed their family and their community. It will be how they survive the next year. The sower is generous in sowing, scattering seed everywhere – on the path, in the furrows, and amongst the weeds – knowing that life can grow anywhere. Jesus tells us that the sower is God and the seed is the “word of the kingdom”, or I would say the gospel, the good news of the Kingdom.
Secondly, we see the obstacles of growth for these seeds. We see that they are things that occur naturally. The sun can be blamed, perhaps, for scorching the seeds, the birds can be blamed for eating them, and the weeds can be blamed for choking them, but they do not do so maliciously. They, like the seeds, are simply present in the story and their presence affects the rest of the story. We can learn about ourselves here, I believe. We are in the story of God, we have a place here, and we have an influence. We can make an impact and, in fact, we are impacted and connected with the rest of the story. As we prepare for our annual meeting, we might want to ask ourselves how we are impacting the seeds of God’s Kingdom.
Thirdly, we can look at the seeds that are sown. They are scattered everywhere and generously. They are cast to all corners of the field and there is not one place, it seems, where the sower neglects. The field receives them, it does not plant them itself. This, I believe, is a true sign of God’s love and faithfulness. It does not depend on us – it depends on God.
God’s love and compassion, like the sower’s seed, is generous and is spread everywhere. God doesn’t care if you’re filled with weeds or worn down by years of people treading on you or if you’re good soil. God is sowing everywhere and God will keep sowing everywhere. God is more interested first in the word being spread than the soil being perfect, which should be a comfort to us and a challenge to us.
It’s a comfort first, because it helps us realize that God’s love and grace are purely a gift. We cannot earn it or make ourselves ready for it, like a seed, it comes forth by God’s own work. It does not depend on a prayer to be prayed or a habit to be broken or a sin to be confessed. The seed is for the entire field and God knows that the seed will take root – maybe not this time, but maybe next time. All a seed need is a crack, which you can glimpse in any sidewalk.
But it should challenge us, too. How often have we withheld love or mercy from people because we have not agreed with them or thought them worthy? How often have we assumed that God couldn’t possibly be working through or in “those people”? This is a story as old as dirt. We, as people, often assume that unless someone believes like us, votes like us, acts, or talks, or dresses like us, then they can’t possibly have the seed of God’s word and kingdom. We often believe that we have things figured out and that, if people could just become like us, that then God would really show up in their lives.
But I’m here to proclaim that God’s love is for everyone, the seed of the sower is thrown all over the place and it is scattered over and over and over. It grows, sometimes in spite of ourselves, because seeds always know which way is up, even though the soil is plowed and shifted and turned over. Even in the smallest cracks, the promise of new life can take root and can produce the miracle of the kingdom.
At this point, it should be said, that it’s common to ask the question, “What can I do to become the good soil?” To this, I would have to ask, “What makes soil good?” It is the ability to let seeds grow that produce fruit that will grow to feed the world, bring beauty, and offer protection. For this, we only have God to trust. Our best intentions cannot bring about God’s Kingdom, only God can. And our worst experiences do not negate or disqualify us from the sower’s seed.
In this parable, God is throwing the seeds of love and grace not carefully or deliberately, but recklessly and confidently. The seed is not planting seed by seed in neat rows, but rather is casting seed like confetti at a wedding. These seeds are the promise of the resurrection, life from the soil, and the promise of the future of the Kingdom. We wait, God sows. And what will grow is new life for all people, in all places, in all ways. That is God’s promise. That is what these seeds will produce. Amen.