Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
The Gospel this week – as it so often is – is stunningly simple. Jesus literally explains what the parable of the sower means to His disciples. Knowing how to make ourselves more fertile, receptive soil for the Gospel of Jesus is a bit more complicated. Greater still is the question of how, once we begin to work on our soil’s fertility, then we must go further and ask: how does this garden grow in a way to feed others with its bounty, its produce – in other words, its love born of God’s great goodness?
The parable Jesus tells is really very straightforward. He later even tells His disciples exactly what it means. I sometimes learn more with the visual image than the spoken one, so please turn to the back of the next-to-last page. There you will see an image of the parable of the sower by late 19th century French painter James Tissot. Here, though maybe a dark image, is a rendering of the parable of the sower that I instantly had a connection with. You can see The Sower of the story dressed in 1st century Jewish Palestinian garb. And it looks as though he may have had the seed in the hem of his robe. His arm is outstretched in a gesture of openness and, though it may be hard to see, I see the seed flying above and around him, thrown out for the wind to take wherever it may. The seed is for everyone and everywhere, being scattered willy-nilly, or so in would seem, to the four corners of this field or, looking beyond, for the world.
And the Sower, in this image, is walking on both the path, where the birds quickly eat up the seed, and the hard ground, where the seed cannot take root. Beside him seems to be thickets, that will choke out the seed that falls, without room to grow. There seems to be no good soil but, perhaps, if we could see it better, there might be. But the late 19thcCentury French realists very often painted peasants at work, poor people worthy of rendering, of paying attention to. And the paintings had names like The Angelus, The Gleaning, and The Sower, harkening to a natural connection between people who labor and Almighty God.
So, the parable of the Sower is a typical, beautiful story from the mind and heart of Jesus that says the seed of the sower (Christ himself, God’s planter of the good seed in us) is for everyone and yet, if it is to grow and grow so that it can feed others, it must have the capacity to receive the seed – Christ’s Gospel of love, hope, transformation and redemption – to find a receptive place for growth and then produce fruit that will last. We are back where we started: how do we become fertile soil? Well, maybe we should start by asking what fertile soil is? Let’s look at the story of Jacob and Esau for a moment.
Jacob and Esau were both sons of Isaac, he who had inherited God’s promise of growth and life to Isaac’s father, Abraham. But only one of the sons could inherit Isaac’s blessing, and only one receive most of what was his. Esau was the oldest so he would inherit the promise of God and was beloved of his father, to boot. But Esau would sell his birthright for some soup; that is how little he regarded his place in the house of his father, in the house of God. Jacob was a conniving and clever cheat, but by the time he fled before the wrath of Esau, he would have stolen not only Esau’s birthright but his father’s blessing, too. Jacob and Esau were exceptionally rocky soil, soil that took the easy way out, the soil that had the promise of growth but burned up in the heat of God’s anger, because they were both so selfish.
Jacob would come around and, finally, after wrestling with an angel, would secure God’s blessing and would begin to live into it. Seeking forgiveness from the brother he had wronged and from God, too. He would multiply and from him would come the twelve sons, the twelve tribes of Israel. Non-receptive ground, ground that was rocky, shallow, and thorny with cares became the kind of soil where God could grow His people, the ones who would pave the way to God bringing the promise to us in Christ.
You see, even the most barren soil (heart, spirit, we might say), even hard, calcified hearts, dry as the desert, can become the soil where God grows His reality, plants His redemptive love in Christ, and grows the kingdom in leaps and bounds. Even the desert places, the driest locations of the spirit can become, through the grace of God, poured out in the merciful sacrifice of Jesus, the kind of soil where God’s love can grow. You see, we are all, in varying ways and times, challenging and poorly tilled soil. We can shut out God’s fertile love with our bickering, biases, intractability, hard-heartedness, and distractedness. I often do it with worry, anxiety, and feeling not quite up to what God has in store for me. What about you?
How do we overcome our natural tendency to not be receptive soil (some just seem to be naturally receptive ground for the Gospel but not true for most of us) and become ground where God’s redemptive word of love can take hold, do its work on and in us, and begin to produce fruit of the kingdom, fruit that will not only last, but will multiply and grow 30 fold, 60 fold, and 100 fold. We do it by paying attention to the world around us. We become fertile soil for Jesus when we are willing to look honestly at how we keep people at arm’s length, and cut ourselves off from God. How do we pray, what do we pray, how often do we pray? A life soaked and fed by prayer is a life that will naturally become more and more fertile. Because, when we are able to receive the redemptive love and grace of God in Christ, we can then allow God to grow that love in such a way that it can be shared. God’s Love that explodes in us is a love powerful enough to feed the people around us, next to us, and who journey with us and many, many more.
The Gospel is filled with story of grain, wheat, and being filled and becoming (and being fed by) bread. Bread is a food that can feed nearly anyone and food that poor folks can survive on, as they have often had to. Jesus as the bread of life feed us and we, as fertile soil in the kingdom, can feed the world.