Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
July 13, 2014
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
And he told them many things in parables, saying, “Listen!”
Our gospel today, and for the next few weeks, centers on parables told by Jesus. So I could start out by saying how a parable is a story from everyday life, used to convey spiritual meaning. Or I could do some textual analysis and talk about how the writer of Matthew’s gospel pulled all the parables together into one long discourse, to make it easy for teaching in the early church. Or I could take the historical approach and tell how some scholars believe these folksy tales allowed Jesus’ radical message to “fly under the radar” of the powers emanating from the big cities of Jerusalem and Rome.
I could say:
· I wonder what this is. It’s gold. It might be a parable, because parables are more precious even than gold.
· It looks like a present. Parables are gifts that were given to you a long time ago, even before you were born. And they belong to you, even if you don’t know what they are.
· It has a lid so it’s like a closed door. Sometimes parables seem closed to us. You need to keep coming back for them, and one day they will open.
Is that not our experience of parables too? On the surface they seem almost inscrutable. But we are meant to have to mull them over. I picture the crowds on the hillside unpacking their barley loaves afterwards and saying, “What do you suppose he meant by that?”
With our young theologians, we call it “wondering.” I wonder if you would wonder with me for a minute or two. Let’s do some wondering out loud, together:
· I wonder if the birds were happy when they saw the sower.
· I wonder what the sower was doing when the little seeds could not get their roots in among the stones.
· I wonder what the sower was doing when the little seeds were choked by the thorns.
· I wonder what the sower was doing when the seeds were growing in the good earth.
· I wonder who the sower might be.
The disciples were wondering, too. In fact, they were so perplexed that Jesus had to take them aside and and spell it all out for them. (There’s actually a middle section of this gospel passage – “grumpy Matthew,” I call it – the lectionary has removed a lot of the “grumpy Matthew” passages – where Jesus tells the disciples, “Look, I really, really need you to get this!”) So Jesus takes them aside and tells them that the seed is the word of God, and the parable is about how people will choose to respond to it … or not. It seems to me that he is preparing them for their commission, for the work they will be given to do, and maybe even managing their expectations. Some of them may get a hundredfold, others just sixty or thirty. And sometimes, at the end of the day, maybe all you did was feed the birds. But that’s OK. Someone gets fed.
And I am almost certain that, back on that hillside, the guys sitting up in the farmer section were looking at each other and saying, “What is he TALKING about? Nobody plants in the rocks!” Because I’m sure that agribusiness in the first century was just as concerned about operating costs per acre as its modern descendants: the twenty-first century farmer has computerized tractors with on-board GPS systems that actually read the terrain and let down just enough seed. It’s called “optimized seed spacing.” Maximum efficiency. Nothing goes to waste.
But the economics of grace are different. The sower does not look at the field – at us – in terms of cost/benefit analysis. He just keeps flinging the seeds out there. The word – the Word Made Flesh in Jesus – keeps reaching out to us in love and forgiveness and generosity. When I wonder about this parable, that is the image I keep coming back to. Grace is never wasted.
And so, I wonder one more thing. I wonder if the sower is meant to be us. You and me.
In our Baptismal Covenant we promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” That’s sowing seeds, is it not? And yet, I think we fall short in living into that covenant because we let rocks and weeds hold us back. For one thing, there’s fear. Fear of rejection, as Jesus was preparing his disciples for. Even more, fear of appearing naïve or irrelevant in a world overgrown with the thorns of irony and cynicism. And we want results! We need to see evidence that our generosity – generosity of time, talents and treasure, or even simple generosity of spirit – is yielding fruit.
We are cautious farmers. And when we play it safe, we aren’t helping to further the spread of God’s kingdom.
So in the spirit of the Great Sower’s unbounded generosity, let us go out and scatter some seeds. Look for the plants coming up from between the rocks. And while you’re at it, let some birds be fed. Because you can’t waste grace.
This homily was inspired by the Godly Play story of the Parable of the Sower and used the gold parable box. Godly Play ©2011 by Jerome W. Berryman.