Matthew 13.1-9; 18-26
a wild and reckless sharing
July 13, 2014 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Roy W. Howard
The gospel readings over the next few Sundays focus on stories rich in agricultural images. It’s a delightful way for a summer congregation to engage the gospel. I just spent a week with 1,000 teenagers at Montreat exploring this very passage. That was a rich experience. Still I’m no farmer.
Beside the happy providence of previously serving a congregation of farmers, I know the truth of the Parable of the Sower mostly by my repeated failure in all things agricultural. I toss grass and carefully put straw over it, water it and wait. Sure enough, come the birds, and the burning heat, car wheels over the straw and alas, again, my grass seed gives way to weeds. But, once in a while, the seed actually takes hold! Lo and behold, I stare at it as if God looking over creation at dawn, a miracle. The birds didn’t get it, or the heat or the cars or anything else in all creation – the grass grows, quite to my delight and utter surprise!
Jesus’ favorite way of teaching is with parables, extended metaphors that use stories to describe one thing, while pointing indirectly to another. He usually ends his parables the way the did this one, rather bluntly, leaving the interpretation up to the listeners. “Let those who have ears to hear, listen!” As was often the case, it was his own disciples who had a difficult time making the connection between the story and the other meanings Jesus’ has in mind. So he gives them some help by inviting them to focus attention on three aspects of this parable: the sower, the seed and the soil.
There’s the Sower who goes about in the world tossing seed randomly everywhere he walks. There is nothing careful about it either; he just throws seed everywhere along the path. What seems to matter more than anything else is getting the seed out there without regard for where it falls; just keep tossing the seeds and let them fall where they will. I’m struck by the sheer prodigality of the sower. He has a reckless, extravagance without any concern for scarcity. He is operates from an assumption of radical abundance – there will also be enough seed – therefore what is most important now is tossing them everywhere he goes merrily along his way in the world.
The seed being thrown by the Sower is good seed, not bad, wasted or worthless seed. No, we soon learn, this seed being thrown so randomly in the world is the best seed of all. Again, notice there is not attitude of scarcity that comes with the knowledge that this is the best seed. There is no careful measuring out of the good seed so that it lands only in the well-prepared places where it is most likely to grow.
Just get the best seed out there, everywhere. Now.
One might ask: isn’t it obvious that some of this good seed tossed so wildly will not take root and grow? And isn’t that certain proof that the prodigal Sower is wasteful in his assumption of abundance and radical extravagance? Even where evil lurks the Gospel is thrown and into thorn- infested hovels of humanity where no one expects any thing to happen but more death, more hunger, more violence, more bad news. The seed of God’s love is tossed into the villages of the poor throughout the world where simply to stay alive is the task of the day and not guaranteed.
This is not a quaint tale of Johnny Appleseed skipping through the land. The story is about the Word of God and the One who tosses this Gospel so extravagantly in the world.
The likelihood of failure is built into the way of the Sower who sows extravagantly, without calculation or guarantee of success. He just tosses the Good News everywhere into everyone. Jesus calls the community of disciples to the same extravagance.
The only real failure possible is to stop throwing seeds.
On the other hand, there are human choices to be made for those who are blessed to live in conditions where we can make choice. One can live a superficial life, staying only on the surface of things, skimming over life but never stopping to go deeper to reflect on one’s purpose. As such, God’s life will never take root, but wither on the surface. One can get entangled in what Jesus describes as the cares of this world and the lures ofwealth. Recent research proves that money actually can buy you a certain level of human happiness. What appears to be not so obvious but is also manifestly true is that more and more money, does not buy more and more happiness. In fact, it seems in most cases that the opposite is true. Jesus said, The cares of this world and the lure of wealth choke out the gospel.
A man once said to me, “I am 73 now, facing the last chapter of my life. Frankly, I don’t want to be surrounded by more stuff. I want to be surrounded by people I am trying to love and those who are trying to love me.”
I too want to live out of the radical abundance of grace. Don’t you? There is no scarcity of the Gospel of God’s love. It is abundant and without end.
When the Church throw open the doors, welcoming all people in prayer and service, healing and wholeness, laughter and play, we are living out of the radical abundance of grace.
Yes, says the parable, the seed will sometimes fail to grow in this world beset by demonic powers of evil, materialism, superficial religion and endless entertainment.
Occasionally, perhaps rarely, the seed falls on good soil – an open heart, a ready mind – and bears abundance. Grace happens!
A couple receives a welcome card and within a year they and their children are baptized into the Christian faith. Grace happens! A woman discovers a community and a new life she never imagined possible. The disabled find acceptance. The lost find a home. The broken are on the way toward mending. Grace happens!
What if you and I – the whole church – lived as the Prodigal Sower – our Lord – lived; believing that all this is possible, tossing seeds of God’s love everywhere, watching as the miracle of grace happen, again and again?
Jesus said let those who have ears to hear, listen. Amen.