I wonder how many times would you guess you’ve heard this parable?
- every three years when it comes around in the lectionary, like today.
- Probably at Sunday school and VBS — easy to teach with crafts, acting out, etc.
- Study of the parables in adult ed.
It is definitely one of those oh-so-familiar stories told by Jesus. What interested me this time, though, is the name we have given this parable, compared to the interpretations we usually hear.
Most of my life, whether in VBS, SS, or sermons, the discussion/teaching centered on the four different kinds of soil. We were to imagine which one we were. Of course, I always wanted to be the good soil, but if I were honest in my reflection, I was all four at one time or another. There were times when this reflection just made me feel guilty. We don’t call this the “parable of the four soils,” do we?
Sometimes a preacher would emphasize the size of the harvest. How these tiny seeds, in good soil, could produce what can only be considered as a miraculous harvest. It certainly would have been considered miraculous in Jesus’ day, or any time before Miracle-Gro. It was often compared to the growth of the early church. But we don’t call it the “parable of the miraculous harvest” either.
The parable begins, “A sower went out to sow.” This is a parable about the sower, not about the soil, or the seeds, or the harvest. It is the parable of the Sower. So what does the story tell us about the sower? He sows. But how does he sow?
When we lived in the midwest and we had gardens. In the spring I’d get the soil loosened, then make a row with a little trench down the middle and drop seeds carefully into that line—spacing them apart as directed on the seed package. Then I’d pat the soil on top.
But that’s not how Jesus’ sower does his sowing. He just throws the seed everywhere. He doesn’t seem to mind that some of it goes on hard soil, or rocks, or feeds birds.
Actually he probably likes that. He just scatters seed everywhere. Some have called him wasteful. Others have described him as extravagant.
Our sower doesn’t consider himself wasteful because there is plenty seed to go around. He can afford to waste some. Besides, are we actually sure that a seed will only grow in certain soils? Are we sure there’s no chance on hard or rocky ground?
I’m convinced that the parable of the sower well named. It is about God’s kingdom, about God’s provision, and yes, about God’s extravagance.
Jesus goes around Israel, including Samaria, up to Tyre and Sidon, over to the Decapolis proclaiming the Good News. Yes, a lot of what he says and does falls on deaf ears. Doesn’t take root. But a careful reading shows us that some of it just took a while to grow in those who heard and saw Jesus, including members of his own family.
Jesus’ ministry was to proclaim, to demonstrate God’s kingdom, to heal and feed, and bring the marginalized back into community. He wasn’t a bean counter. He didn’t have a goal of 10% more disciples this month or this year. He just proclaimed and healed. The results speak for themselves. We are here this morning. And because we’re here—baptized into the Body of Christ—now it’s our job to be extravagant sowers of the Good News of the kingdom of God.
How do we do that? It should be easy, but I think we make it hard. Partly because the Church—the whole Christian church—has not done that well at extravagant sowing over the years. We have excluded people; we have not seen them as our fellow children of God. We have said some people could be Christians but not here, not with us; they could make their own church. At various times in our history, we have told only part of the story. We have taken verses and passages out of context and given them meanings never intended by the speaker. We have practiced scarcity, not abundance. We have been cheap, not generous. We have grasped our money, our time, our stuff, even our faith as though there wasn’t enough to share.
Given the state of things in our nation and world today, I think we need to be sowing like crazy. And like the sower—we shouldn’t worry about results. Our job is to sow. Our job is to be as generous as the sower. Our job is to be willing to “waste” seed, money, time for the sake of the kingdom. Think about the promises we make at baptism:
- to proclaim by word and example the good news
- to seek and serve Christ in all persons
- to strive for justice and peace among all people
Notice all persons, all people, word and example. We are to sow—we can let God take care of the harvest.
I like to picture the sower going about his sowing with a big grin on his face. Flinging seed as he walked across his field—just having a great old time—not worried about where it would land—knowing there was always enough.
Can we toss handfuls of Good News with that same abandon, that same joy, trusting that God will always give us what we need, guiding us as we go?
Let’s go fling some good news around Naples this week.