One of the activities I have been enjoying during this pandemic season is taking care of a garden of plants in my office. I love having something to nurture and to watch grow. This current season of the church, the season after Pentecost, is a time to explore our life in Jesus. The color for the season is green. Green for life and growth. Green for nurturing new sprouts and tending long standing vines. In keeping with this theme, we will hear on Sunday the Gospel parable of the sower and the seeds.
What exactly is a parable? These short stories are more than illustrations or metaphors. They aren’t exactly morality stories, either. Think of a story with a moral. My favorite one is the tortoise and the hare. They are to race to the finish line. As the story goes, the tortoise wins the competition with the hare, who took off quickly but did not keep up the pace. The moral is: slow and steady wins the race. Nice and straightforward. Parables look like they should have simple answers-and yet, they can draw us in deeper and deeper, with new revelations to be found each time we return. They convey one or more than one spiritual truths that are understood as we ponder them. And these stories from Jesus do not have a simple cliche’ answer. There is a wonderful ambiguity about a parable. How then shall we read the parable of the sower?
The sower goes out to plant seeds and the seed falls to different types of soil. Depending on the soil and location of the fallen seed, it either grows or is choked out by weeds, or baked by the sun or eaten by birds. Here is the lovely ambiguity at the very beginning: when Jesus talks of the sower, to whom does he refer? Is the sower God the Father? Or is he referring to himself? Is he referring to an evangelist or a disciple? Is he referring to an ordinary believer in God? We don’t have to choose just one answer. It could be any or all of these. Any of us could be the sower of seeds. Why doesn’t the sower pay more attention to where those seeds land? Is it out of a generous spirit that the sower casts seeds everywhere? Does the sower not stop to evaluate the soil? Will the sower come back and try again?
And then, what are the seeds? Are they the word of God? Are they love and kindness? Are they the seeds of truth and justice? Or is this a nice example of ancient farming methods? We know that they are good seeds because there is a distinction made between the seeds that sprout and bear fruit and the weeds that can choke them out. However, the seeds can stand for many good things. Even the weeds can represent different ways of destroying these good seeds. Weeds can be indifference or hardness of heart. Weeds can be distractions or things that crowd out time with God. They may represent hatred or the inability to forgive or anger. Looking at weeds in a garden-weeds can look like beneficial plants. It is sometime hard to distinguish the helpful from the non helpful until the plants have grown. Working with parables is a great entry way to entering the kingdom of God. You cannot constrain or contain God’s kingdom. It moves and changes. It is shallow and deep, narrow and wide. So parables convey meaning and point to God with words and with the ambiguous nature of their form. Parables give us space to turn over in our minds those words and the intent behind them.
Ponder this week the parable of the sower. Think on how God is calling you to be sowers of seeds and what that might look like in your life. Think also on how other people have brought good seed into your life and give thanks for them.