Cultivating the Parable of the Sower
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is from Matthew, Chapter 13 and it is referred to by Jesus himself as the “Parable of the Sower.” In it, Jesus appears to be explaining the possible outcomes of allowing a seed to fall on a variety of surfaces, from what we referred to in northern California as “hardpan”, a clay so dense that it is impervious to water and plant growth, to fine, cultivated soil.
Most commentaries tell us this parable is about the seed, and how it needs to be sown in fertile soil so it may thrive and grow to maturity. New Testament Professor Holly Hearon, of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis and a gardener herself, posits that it is about the soil. “This means that the parable is really about us—those who hear the ‘word of the kingdom’. We are the soil,” she writes.
“Soil, like human beings, is shaped by its environment,” Hearon continues. “So, if soil is walked on over and over again, beaten down so that it becomes packed hard, it is no longer fit for the planting of seeds. We see this in the human community too. People who have been walked on over, and over, and over again often develop a hardened exterior to protect themselves. Rocky soil, says Jesus, describes those who lack the staying power to deal with—well, rocky ground. When the going gets rough, they go into retreat. The soil filled with thorns easily translates into our overcrowded lives; there is no room in an already overplanted plot for anything more.”
So then, what about the seed falling on good soil? My thoughts go to the words of Chauncy Gardener, a character played by Peter Sellers in the amazing movie Being There, whose simplistic garden analogies were, we are led to believe, mistaken by the President of the United States (hmm) to be great wisdom on the reconciliation of nations and the path to Peace on Earth. To paraphrase Chauncy Gardener, good soil must be fed, nurtured and worked so that it becomes supple, but not worked so hard that its structure is broken down. And soil must be replenished as seeds grow and draw on its nutrients. Good soil can develop in nature, but good soil can also be the work of gardeners.
The parable focusses on seeds and soil, but it doesn’t say much about gardeners, other than the “sowers.” Holly Hearon reminds us, “In the Hebrew Scriptures, God is depicted as one who sows (Jeremiah 31:27-28; Hosea 2:21-23). In Matthew, it is Jesus who sows the “word of the kingdom” and it is the disciples, too, who will become sowers of the word.” And, after all, who are the disciples in our own context? We are, of course. All of us.
So, as we consider this week’s Gospel message, this Parable of the Sower, in these days when we are feeling walked on, broken down and covered in thorns, let us also consider these questions posed for us by Professor Hearon:
- What does it mean to be good soil, prepared to receive the word of the kingdom?
- What would we need to do for the seed to be able to take root in our bodies and souls?
- And how might we nurture good soil in those around us?
And I will add one of my own:
- Where do you show up in this parable – as the seed? The soil? Or the gardener?
Sunday as St. Johns
Allow me to remind you that we have been worshiping together again as St. John’s Church for several weeks now, and we truly want you to be there with us. Note that I say “as St. John’s” rather than “at St. John’s.” We are learning, along with every other faith community, how to have virtual communal worship, in our case using the Zoom Meetings application.
We started with a very basic Morning Prayer service, as a test. Our service is gradually being enriched, as is liturgically appropriate, and we expect to be testing a livestreamed complete Spiritual Eucharist with music service soon. In the meantime, I hope you will (if you aren’t already) support our effort by joining us this Sunday and every Sunday going forward, as we practice our stated mission to “hear God’s Word and do God’s work.” And when I say “our effort” I refer to the ongoing hard work of our worship committee, our Sr. Warden, and the ad hoc committee that are, together, guiding us safely back to worshiping as St. John’s Church. It is a joy to see your faces on Zoom each Sunday, and the more faces we see, the greater the joy becomes! Check your email for this week’s St. John’s Sunday Morning Prayer Zoom link.
If you do not receive the weekly email links to our Sunday Zoom services, please call or email the church office to get on the list. All are welcome. All means ALL!
Have a Blessed Week!