Isaiah 55, 10-11 + Psalm 65 + Romans 8, 18-23 + Matthew 13, 1-23
Sometimes I think we get too picky and far too analytical about the details of Gospel parables like this one and we fail to get the bigger picture. All caught up in thinking about rocks and thorns, hungry birds and dry soil, we miss the message entirely. Trying to make every little word of this parable correspond to something in life, we get all intrigued by how it works, all caught up on the agrarian images, and forget that this parable is addressed to us today. We forget that the Word of God is living, and in that forgetfulness, we are satisfied to figure out what Jesus was saying to his disciples a long time ago. Stuck in that mentality, we never get around to what Jesus is saying to us now.
That’s all very fine for a classroom or a course on Matthew’s Gospel, but it does not get us into this day when the Word of God speaks to you and to me. Two things happen in this parable: sowing and harvesting. Two things are described: the sowing is extravagant and generous, the harvest is equally huge. A hundred, or sixty, or thirty fold, is a very unusual unimaginable increase. In between the extravagant sowing and the huge harvest, there are ups and down, bad times and good, losses and successes. Everything is not perfect; but in spite of that fact, there is a huge harvest. This is a simple lesson on life. Be generous enough, and not matter what happens, there will be harvest, and it will be bigger and better than you thought. That is the simple wisdom behind the parable that gets lost when all we can hear is the interpretation of the parable by Matthew.
The church at the time this Gospel is coming together is very concerned about why and how it is that the Word of God has not taken root and produced greater numbers of believers. Unexpected persecutions have started, and trusted members of the apostolic community have stumbled and turned away lured by money and prestige. The Matthew’s community has personified the conditions set forth in the parable: the path becomes a man who hears without understanding. The evil one gets the blame. The rock becomes the man who falters in the face of a challenge. The briars become the man who is lured away by money. Interesting as all this is, and true as it might be, it unfortunately leaves us set in one role, the role of the listener, and in terms of the seeds God sows, we are the recipient. We end up the center of the parable, and we get placed in the position of getting something. I do not think that Jesus saw it this way.
Parables are always about God first of all. This parable is no exception. It tells us about God and how God works, just like this farmer who is extravagant with the seeds that go everywhere. There is nothing stingy or careful, nothing picky or fussy about where the seed goes. It just goes everywhere. Then the parable also tells us that there will be a harvest, and it will be a good one.
Since this is the living Word of God that can be interpreted in this day and age for us as truthfully as it was for Matthew’s day, we might and we should ask what it means for us. Perhaps in this time it might be better if we moved beyond the role of the one who receives the Word and wonder what it might be like if we either saw ourselves as the seed or if we could began to imitate the one who sows. After all, we have been given the Word, we have been given faith. What are we to do with it, and what are we to become because of it? These are the questions we ought to be asking. The disciples who heard the parable from the lips of Jesus had their questions reflected in these verses. We have our questions, and this might be the time to get the answers.
Knowing that there is going to be big harvest, we might get interested in being part of it or in being the cause of it. Either way, if we begin to think of ourselves with our faith and its rich traditions as the seed God has sown all over this earth, we need to be ready to die as seeds do when planted in the earth. We need to be life giving, productive, and not worry about where we are, the ups and down, successes and failures. Notice that in the parable, every seed does come to life and give life even if it is bird food. No seed scattered by that farmer does nothing. God is sowing you and me into this world. It does not matter how hard it is, how disappointing, or what obstacles come along. There will be a harvest.
On the other hand, we might begin to remember that having been made in the image and likeness of God, we might begin to behave a bit more like this extravagant farmer who saves no seed and is not the least bit picky about where the seeds are sown. It is for us an example of divine generosity that suggests to us that such extravagance might be the right response or the right style of life for people to whom much has been given. If we used what we have been given the way God sows seeds, there is certainly going to be a great harvest.
Instead of trying to think about which of the “men” we are in Matthew’s interpretation making sure we are not without understanding, not faltering or set back by persecution, or not distracted by worldly anxiety and money as Matthew puts it, we might stop thinking it’s all about us, and look more closely at God and see ourselves in relationship or contrast to God who still and always will depend on us to sow the seed in such a way that there will be a great harvest in spite of whatever obstacles may come along. With that thought and that hope, we can hear this message and take it in. We can actually be this message itself which in the end is true discipleship. To see a disciple of Jesus is to see Jesus just as seeing Jesus is to see the Father.