Parable of the Sower
By Pastor Leo E. Longan
If you remember anything about how Pastor Longan taught the bible, I’d like for you to remember this: always ask yourself “Where am I in this picture?” Whenever you read scripture – and I hope that you will read at least some scripture every day – your first question should be this one: “Where am I?”
Scripture is about us, and for us. It is for us that scripture was written and compiled and edited and preserved in the first place. Contrary to how it must seem to my confirmation class who have been made to learn a lot of facts about people who are dead and places that are gone, the real subject of scripture is you. You and me. Us. It is God’s living word, shouted out to us in real time, here and now.
That was never more true of anything in scripture than it is of today’s magnificent gospel, Jesus’ parable of the sower. This is a wonderful story. Jesus gets it; Jesus gets us.
SO: We’ve heard the story. Where are we in it?
Easy: we’re the dirt. When Jesus talks about dirt this morning, he’s talking to us about ourselves. That’s good news, because there’s nothing wrong with the dirt in this story. No, unless something gets in its way, the dirt does exactly what God made the dirt to do: to receive and nurture and grow the seeds that are planted in it. That’s the holy work of dirt. Dirt is good.
And so is the seed. Jesus teaches us that the seed is the word of God, the word about the kingdom of God, the gospel, the good news. The seed belongs in the dirt where it can grow and thrive. The seed and the soil belong together; they were made for each other. Jesus is teaching us that God’s word and God’s people were made for each other and that they belong together. Like seed and soil, God’s word subsisting in and nurtured by God’s people is a deep structure of creation.
So far it’s all good. But Jesus teaches this parable to explain a problem: in nature, sometimes the seed doesn’t sprout and grow. Sometimes God’s people cannot hear, do not receive, do not nurture the word that God gives. God made the soil, God sows the seed, but somehow the plant doesn’t grow.
Jesus is describing something that we all know: the world as we know it is a sinful and suffering place, where many souls are far from God, where greed and anger and hatred thrive and the word of God is barely heard, often ignored, sometimes scorned. What’s wrong?
Let me just cut to the chase here, because I’m sure you’re already way ahead of me. In his explanation of the parable to his disciples, Jesus offers four reasons why the word doesn’t take root in us. These four reasons are 1) misunderstanding; 2) fear; 3) distractions; and 4) greed. All of these things operate in each of our lives, and they are a pretty good list of the obstacles we encounter in seeking God and growing our hearts..
Often we just don’t understand. (Like that moment in the Monty Python film LIFE OF BRIAN, where the people at the back of the crowd listening to Jesus think he’s saying “Blessed are the cheesemakers.” To get to us, God has to meet us in the tangle of our minds, where we have accumulated all sorts of bad ideas; it’s really easy for us to misunderstand God’s word to us. In the parable, this is the seed falls in the path where the soil is hard and packed down by the traffic; the seed can’t get into the soil. It doesn’t stand a chance against the first hungry bird, the first evil idea that comes along.
Then, the word of God challenges us, comes up against our hard surfaces, our rocks. That may sound good at first. But if it means we have to “change our way o’doin’” as my grandmother used to say, and – in the language of the parable – have to start pulling familiar rocks out of our garden, we quickly lose interest. That takes work. We don’t like work. It means change. We are allergic to change. Change means trouble and we run from trouble. Of course the real bottom line here is fear. Fears are to our hearts what rocks are to a garden; until they’re gone nothing will grow. And they don’t just leave on their own; they have to be taken out one by one.
Likewise inimical to the word of God are the distractions and cares of the world. They choke the life out of us like the weeds choke the begonias. We are full of worries and anxieties about our money, our health, our kids, our country … worry and anxiety leave no room for God, for love, for peace, for hope to take root and grow. Meanwhile, we are hideously overstimulated in our society. Everybody wants our attention; everybody wants a piece of us. The voice of God is a still, small voice that gets lost in the roar of the world and our own anxieties about it.
But maybe the most dangerous and destructive obstacle to the word of God taking root in us is greed, as Jesus says “the lure of wealth.” Our world today is obsessed with money, to the exclusion of every claim of God or humanity. The idea that we exist only for ourselves, that winning is everything and that our worth can be quantified by things that can be counted and numbered, like cars and houses and dollars is a sick lie that is ravaging our world. Greed is just evil. The truth is that nothing that can be acquired by greed is even real. The only real thing is love: the love that is God, the love that we are privileged to share with one another, the love that crosses the boundaries of race and tribe to meet human need, the love that “feels want, tastes grief, needs friends.” *
These are pretty serious obstacles that Jesus lays out in his lesson for us today, and they affect our lives in real time. But here’s the good news: obstacles can be overcome. Soil can be turned, rocks can be removed, weeds can be weeded out. Meanwhile, there is nothing wrong with the soil; we are the soil. There is nothing wrong with the seed; the seed is the precious and life-giving word of God. The seed and the soil were made for each other. The word of God was made for us. Careful listening untangles misunderstanding. Faith conquers fear and quiets anxiety. Generosity evaporates greed. A little gardening, a little heart-work, and the good seed of God’s love will take root and grow in us.
And at the harvest, the whole world will be blessed, and we will be who God made us to become.
*(Shakespeare, Richard II, Act III, Sc.2).