The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 13th Chapter
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Let anyone with ears listen!” “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Parables are hard because they’re tricksy. They teach things we need to hear but often don’t want to hear. To create his tricksy parables, Jesus used pieces of what seemed like a harmless story, and then, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, he shuffled them around in front of the crowd. The crowds expected the pieces to form happy little farming or fishing pictures. But then, as Jesus brought them together in his unique way, the picture became something quite challenging. That’s why parables are hard.
So here we have the pieces of a puzzle called The Sower. Sounds harmless. Let’s see how it comes together. So, who’s the Sower? At first shuffle you might expect the Sower to be Jesus, but as it comes together the Sower clearly is God and what God is sowing is the Word… the Word made flesh… Jesus. The first thing that makes this hard is that it looks like God isn’t being at all careful with where Jesus gets spread! It looks like a foolish waste of Jesus to spread him on hard paths, rocky soil and in weedy-thorny people. But that’s exactly what this parable is insisting! God has sent Jesus to all of creation and not one corner of creation is left out! Where they live, who they are, what they’ve done, how mean they are, what they believe, how they vote, who they love… God just rains down Jesus all over the place sowing Jesus into everyone’s lives whether they know it or not, whether they like it or not, whether they believe it or not! The Sower is more extravagant than Oprah! You’ve got Jesus and You’ve got Jesus and You’ve got Jesus! Everybody’s got Jesus! And “everybody” sounds good at first, until you remember that “everybody” also includes THAT guy and THOSE people. That’s when God’s radically extravagant, all inclusive Grace gets hard. That’s part of the reason parables are hard.
But that’s not the only hard piece of this Parable Impossipuzzle. There’s the mystery of it all. God, for whatever reason, has chosen to act in this world like a seed. Not like a proper, all powerful God should be expected to act, with a volcano, earthquake or a giant rock squishing bad people from outer space, but like a little, tiny, insignificant seed. In our bigger is better world, seeds don’t seem powerful at all! Why does God choose to work in this crazy mystery, sending his Son to die and rise in some remote, Podunk corner of the world? God has chosen to enter into creation with as much fanfare as a seed hitting the ground. We often think God should fix the world with God’s mighty, omnipotent power, but as the Parable Puzzle comes together it looks like God works in quiet and mystery instead. Another part of why parables are hard.
It gets even harder than that though. This seed, sown willy nilly all over the place does it’s work all on it’s own without needing any help from you or me or anybody! No matter what soil the seed is sown in, Jesus is active and working! With me, without me... doesn't matter! The soil doesn’t do the work. The seed does the work! The seed just does it’s “seedy” thing. It sprouts on it’s own, it grows on it’s own, it feeds the birds on it’s own, it composts into rocky ground on it’s own. The Word of God… The Word made flesh… Jesus, God’s only begotten son… it turns out, according to this parable, is active and working and accomplishing all that God intends, all on it’s own and there is nothing we can do to stop it and I think maybe more frustratingly to us humans who like to pretend we’re in control… there’s nothing we can do to help it either! Being reminded we’re not in charge is a BIG part of why parables are hard!
As this Parable Puzzle picture takes shape then, it looks like we can’t "find" Jesus or "bring anyone" to Jesus, because God has already sown Jesus into everyone. We can’t save ourselves or anyone else, because Jesus, the seed, does that work on his own and he’s at work in good soil, rocky soil and even on no soil. About the best we can do is tell people what God, the Sower has done, what the seed is doing and what God plans for all of creation. We might want to share how good it feels to be loved that much by God and we could show our thanks by taking a cue from the Sower by caring for people of every type of soil who live around us. But past that, this is the Sower’s show… not ours.
And that REALLY makes Parables hard. God’s grace is spread and working in everyone, even in people we’d probably never choose to include. God works quietly and mysteriously even though we’d probably choose lighting bolts and smiting rocks from outer space. And God is the one who does the work of salvation. All of that is why parables are hard. Parables are hard because they remind us of a truth we need to hear but don’t like to hear… We’re not in control!
Back in Jesus’ day lots of folks didn’t like the puzzle picture Jesus put together for them. They didn’t want a God of radical, all inclusive Grace. They didn’t want a God that included “those people,” whoever “those people” might be. They didn’t want a God that worked in still, small, voices and mystery. They didn’t want a God that didn’t leave them in control. They didn’t want that sort of God back then and truth be told, a lot of people who hear this parable today don’t like it either. And if even more truth be told, somedays, sinner that I am, I don’t want that God either! Some days I too want a God that will only love the people I love. Some days I don’t want to be challenged to love all the people God loves and their mean, hard hearts and rocky heads! Even more truth be told, parables are STILL REALLY hard!
But in the end, both on the days I like the way God works and especially on the days I don’t, God remains the Sower, sowing the extravagant, loving, seed of the Word made flesh into EVERY hard heart, rocky noggin and good soil throughout all of creation. And in each of us, Christ, the seed is at work, turning darkness into light, pain into healing and death into life... in me and in you and in all of creation. So let us give thanks to the Sower for giving us what we need even if it's not always what we want. Amen.