Proper 10, Year A, Track 1, Genesis 25:19-34,Psalm 119:105-112,Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
The parable of the sower is one of the most famous parables that Christ tells. It seems so easy to visualize a farmer scattering seed. The parable even comes with an explanation just in case we didn’t quite understand it when Jesus told it to us. Yet, for me, there are a few details that just never sit well. We have the sower scattering seed far and wide. The sower seems to be intentionally spreading this seed on both good soil and bad. I don’t know of a farmer or even a gardener that would be so careless with their precious seeds. Even the people of Jesus’ day must have been thinking along the same lines. Why does this farmer not care where the seed goes? Why is the sower so wasteful? With less effort and conserving his resources, the sower could have a much better crop.
There are many things we can look at in this story; the sower, the seed, and the different types of dirt. We can even get caught up in what each soil condition brings to the seed. Of these details, the seed seems to be the most recognizable. The seed is the Word of God; the Gospel or Christ. The sower scatters the seed and depending on the condition of the earth it lands on, it either produces nothing or produces abundantly; 100, 60, or even 30 fold. Amazingly these numbers are not far off from modern day rice farming. A farmer who plants a pound of rice can easily expect to receive 100 pounds in return. And just like the parable, this return isn’t guaranteed. It is quite variable depending on growing conditions.
We find that in this story the Soil is equated to the people’s receptivity to the Word. I tend to think of tracts of soil as being unchanging. The rocky places are always rocky, the path will always be a path. I’m not saying that plants will never grow in these places but it isn’t worth the time, energy, and low yield to cultivate them. But I’m not sure this is how we are to think of the soil in today’s story.
Each of us is unique and we have different gifts. We also tend to have different baggage that we carry around with us. From a Christian perspective, some of this baggage can be a sense of self-importance in which I may think I am better than others. It could be a sense of independence, in which I believe that I can do it all on my own. I don’t need the help of others or even the help of God. Both of these traits are a form of pride. Pride is often considered to be the most dangerous of the cardinal sins and at its most base level, through our pride we are trying to make ourselves godlike.
Not all of us have a large amount of this baggage or sin but there are others. There are seven of these sins, also known as the “deadly sins:” Pride, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, and Envy. Each of these affects the soil condition of our hearts, the ability for us to either receive or spread the seed, the Word of God.
Lust is often thought of in terms of sexual desires but it can be the intense longing for someone or something even outside of sexuality. If we have an intense desire for something beyond God, we are most likely not going to want to know God deeper, or spread his Word to others. We may have received the seed but didn’t even know it, for our mind is focused somewhere else.
We often think of gluttony as over eating, yet it can manifest its self in many ways. From one perspective it can even be considered eating food that is overly fancy. Generally, it is considered consuming too much or being wasteful whether this is by not using what you have or by using more than is necessary. From today’s example this maybe the person who gets really excited about the faith but then quickly fizzles out, wasting what they had found.
Greed is also a form of desire in which we have more than we need. But unlike gluttony, greed is more like hoarding. Instead of being wasteful we just have too much and we don’t use it or share it. I suppose this could be a person who has tons of personal faith but doesn’t share their experience of God with others. They have received the seed but they don’t spread the seed. They want to keep it private.
Sloth is often thought of as laziness, but it can also be a lack of attention to you duties such as skimping on my prayer practice. Feelings of passiveness, boredom, or apathy all fit in with sloth. This is a person who has the ability to spread the seed but won’t make the time or use their energy to spread it. They may say, “Someone else can do it.”
Wrath encompasses emotions such as rage, hatred, or anger. We all know too well that nothing good comes from these feeling. When we are in the grip of wrath we have no desire to offer something good to someone else.
Finally we come to envy, which is the desire to have what someone else has or an intense desire to be like someone else. It is much like lust but the desire is truly about the other person not about having the object or wanting to be with the other person.
Jesus describes the soil conditions in such a way that I think it is fair to say that the condition of the soil is actually the condition of our sinful state. I imagine that each of us found some commonality with at least one of the classic sins. And I imagine that each of us fights against these desires. This is exactly what Paul was speaking about last week in doing the very thing that he did not want to do.
Parables often have a paradox in them. When we step into this parable, we will find that the sower is not wasteful. We find that he knows exactly what he is doing. The sower spreads these seeds out of love and generosity; out of abundance. He even knows that these soil conditions can change or that within the harsh condition there may be a tiny crack for the seed to sprout just waiting to be nurtured. Even if the seed sprouts and dies, as time passes the sower will sow seed again even in the seemingly hopeless conditions.
We can look at this parable in two ways. In one scenario, the sower is God who is sowing the Word, or Christ, into the hearts of the people. From this angle, we find that God speaks to all people no matter what the condition of their hearts. Whether you have a hardened heart or are the person who jumps into things but then loses interest, or even if your heart is spiritually rich and deep, God speaks to you, because God loves each of us. He doesn’t discriminate as to who He gives his Word to. It is up to us, and often with the people we surround ourselves with, to help us change the condition of the soil, to change the condition of our hearts so that we can produce fruit. Just as farmers pull the rocks out of the soil or tills up the hard places so the seed can rest and grow gently in the soil. We have to work to help ourselves and each other to become a more fertile place for God’s Word.
The second way to interpret this parable is that the disciples or the Christ followers are the sowers. They are the ones who have already received God’s Word. They are now to sow the Word of God in the world. And much like the previous scenario, we are not to prejudge which soil may bear fruit. We are not to discriminate who we speak to, for the Word of God was given to us freely and we are to share and scatter it generously. We are to scatter the Word far and wide even in those places where we do not have much hope. For it is in these places where the miracles of our faith take place. God fills in the hope in which we doubt. The Spirit changes our hearts so that we can bear fruit and the Spirit can change other as well. Working together we can sow the seed with in this parish and within the community beyond. And Just like the rice farms we see, the soil will bring forth fruit some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Question 148 Gluttony, Article 4. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3148.htm