On Feb 20th I wrote a post I titled, While Visions Of Seed Packets Danced in My Head (http://wp.me/p1hsO8-6p). At that time, with my garden under a foot of snow, I was distracted from tidying the living room by the lure of a gardening book. An hour later there I was with my pencil and paper making plans for what to plant in my vegetable garden and wondering if last year’s compost would be ready to use. As soon as the snow cleared, sometime in April, I was out in the back yard with my work boots and gloves on, and my tiller in hand turning soil and getting all the weeds out of a section of the garden. I got about half the area cleared that day before hitting the shower. Time passed……a little over a week ago I was sitting on my deck with a lovely view of what was once bare earth and is now covered with weeds of various types, many taller than my tiller which is still stuck in the ground where I left off.
The Gospel reading this morning, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, is all about gardening, or agriculture to be more specific. In this very familiar parable Jesus shares a story with a crowd of people beside the Sea of Galilee, so large that he actually gets into a boat to get free of the press of people. He talks of something with which all these people would be familiar, a man, the sower, planting seed. This man has a “packet” of seed. We assume that all the seed is basically the same and equally capable of growing and bearing a good yield. Some of his seeds fall on the path and are snatched up by birds, some fall on rocky ground where they begin to grow but with shallow roots they shrivel up under the sun. Some of the seeds fall among the weeds where they begin to grow only to be choked off by the weeds. Some of the seed falls on good soil, grows and provides an extraordinary harvest. He sows all his seed, but in the end only one quarter of the seed produced a harvest. Interestingly, the harvest was many times more than might have been expected from the whole amount of seed sown!
Israel, situated as it was in the Fertile Crescent, was a culture which based on agriculture and much of the imagery in the Old Testament was related to sowing and reaping. Their laws included regulations on when and where to plant, what kind of seeds to plant, when they should harvest, and even what to do with any grain left in the field. They were used to God being referred to as the sower. In creation he planted every plant of every kind in the Garden of Eden. He is variously said to have sown Israel and Judah into the land, sown peace in Zion, and sown righteousness in the nations.
For the most part, although they were familiar with the trials of farming and the vagaries of rocks, birds, and weeds, people didn’t understand the point of Jesus’ story. The disciples, who didn’t get the point either, had the benefit of Jesus’ extra time and patience when he explained it to them later, when they are alone together. Unlike in the Old Testament, in the New Testament the imagery of the sower is used to represent the sowing of the Kingdom. Jesus explains to the disciples that the seeds in his story represent the Word of God. When the Word does not get into the soil at all, on the path, it is stolen by “the evil one.” For the other examples, where the seed reaches the soil, our hearts, the image refers to what happens with us. Sometimes we are turned away by troubles or persecution for our beliefs, sometimes overwhelmed by the distractions of the secular world, and sometimes the seed takes root and we produce a good harvest.
There are many ways of interpreting the message of this parable for our lives. Are we meant to look at ourselves as the soil, the seed, the plant, the sower, or the harvest? If Jesus is the seed and we are the soil, what kinds of harvest how can our soil provide a better harvest. If we are a seed and plant and we produce a good harvest, what form does that take? A lot of time is spent in considering the present condition of the soils. One interpretation I read took the view that within each of us we may have areas of all the types of soil, thus when the seed is sown some of it may find good soil while other parts of us are unwilling to yield. All of these points are worth consideration, however, when I first thought about this week’s readings it occurred to me that maybe we aren’t supposed to focus so much on the current condition of the soils in the Parable and which type we are ourselves, nor on how we can do a better job of sowing the Kingdom in our communities, but on what we do in our churches and ministries to prepare the soil for planting.