Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9
1st Reading: Isaiah 55:10-13
2nd Reading: Romans 8:1-11
Parables are so much fun because they have so many possible meanings. I think that is one reason Jesus told them. They make us think. He could have come right out and said what he meant, but isn’t it easier to swallow if we think about what parts apply to us and to find the many possible meanings on our own or in discussion?
One of the main questions which probably comes to mind when we read this parable, is about who we might be in the story. First, we probably think of ourselves as the plants, themselves. In this case, the parables tell us why some people have a strong faith and others are flakes. Yet, what good does it do us to judge each other? “Oh, she’s just a seed that fell on the path. No wonder she didn’t stick around and follow Jesus as well as I did.” We’re not in that other person’s position and it isn’t for us to judge or know whether their seed is growing into a healthy plant with a high yield or drying up.
A second possibility is that we are the seed that God is throwing out, little pods of possibility with the total information needed to grow something new and full of life. If the good news that God has given us, falls in a good place to grow, then it will sprout and grow. If it doesn’t, then it might whither up. In this case the parable explains why the good we try to do sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t or the people we try to help sometimes are helped and given new life and sometimes nothing happens at all.
A third possibility is that we are the kinds of soil. Some of us are the path. We try to make ourselves smooth and easier to get along with, pointing in a particular direction, knowing where we’re going in life. But we don’t make a good place for seeds to grow. Some of us are the rocky soil, with lots of conflicts and hard places, unresolved grief, places within ourselves that we keep bumping up against that keep growth from happening. Or we’re the thorns, a person so full of anger that nothing can grow there. And a few of us are the good soil, where God’s love can take root and grow.
Is anything really that cut and dried, though? Some pastors and scholars have proposed that we’re all the soils. Sometimes we’re thorny and grouchy, other times we might be full of rocks and our faults so obvious to us, but we don’t have the strength to remove them. Other times we’re shallow and we want to develop a new skill or we think we’re getting it, and then we get completely sidelined by some setback or distraction that sends our faith withering. And once in a while, we have a moment in which something changes in us and the seed of God’s love is clearly growing and new life is taking root.
Still, what are we supposed to do about that? What soil can change its own composition, or yield more or less fruit? Maybe the point of this last part is to be aware that we aren’t going to get it every time and not to be so hard on ourselves when we fail. That isn’t the totality of who we are.
In fact, this parable probably isn’t really about us at all. Whatever kind of soil or seed or plant we are, God is still this ridiculous farmer, casting seeds absolutely everywhere, willy-nilly, persistent, generous, joyful, overflowing. God never runs out of seeds, which I would say represent love and flourishing life. God provides absolutely everything needed for growth—, ways for plants to combine their traits, ways for them to adapt and to spread, soil, water, light, insects, animals, wind, etc. Whatever mistakes we make, the growth that doesn’t happen, the blossom end rot that ruins our precious fruit, the hard surfaces we fall on, the rocks in our soil, God just keeps throwing that seed of love out there until it grows and has a high yield.
This is partly what Paul is talking about in Romans when he talks about walking according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. Sometimes we look at things according to the flesh and it just looks hopeless. There are so many barriers, so many things wrong with us and this world, so many forces of evil and greed working in this world. It just feels like death is the only possibility. Even 75% of the garden isn’t hospitable to God’s loving seeds and those seeds die and are devoured. What percentage of ourselves are open to God’s seed of love growing what percentage of the time? Most of the time we don’t get it. But we don’t live according to the flesh anymore. God doesn’t see us according to our failures, but as filled with God’s life-giving Spirit. So that what seemed only dead and hopeless is now full of life, growing into plants and even producing more seed and casting it willy-nilly about until it, too, takes root and spreads.
God’s love can grow in surprising places. We don’t have to look any further than the patio right out front. There is a path leading to the church, and there are horsetails growing there in the cracks. God’s love is so strong that even a path can’t keep it from growing. There is a rock in Montana, a huge boulder, that has a huge tree growing right out of it. If we were to sew seeds, a boulder would be the last place we would plant a tree, yet there it grows. Even a huge stone isn’t enough to keep God’s love from growing. Living in Oregon, we have an abundance of thorns, but that doesn’t mean they don’t bear good fruit. Oregon blackberries will soon be abundant and ripe on the vines. My arms and legs will be covered in scratches and my fingers will be purple, but it will all be worth it when we have blackberry pie and homemade blackberry ice cream and blackberries in our cereal every morning. Finally, those seeds that are eaten don’t go to waste, they feed the birds, and sometimes come out the other end in better shape to take root or make fertilizer for new plants. Those plants that whither and die early, become nutrients in the soil so that later that soil can be nourishing for a plant to grow there. God’s love grows strong and sure, and wherever it is cast it makes a difference. Knowing that God is willing to try again with us, to send that love and hope it takes root. This view of God doesn’t show God angry or sad about the seed not growing, it doesn’t show God punishing seeds that don’t grow. Instead this is a view of God, joyful and hopeful, casting out that seed every which way, knowing that some will grow and that love will flourish.
God has a vision of abundant life. Sometimes all we can see are the obstacles, the thorns, the birds, the sizzling desert sun. But where we see trouble, God sees possibilities. Where we see a brier, God sees a myrtle. Where we see a thorn God sees a cypress. God sees those possibilities in us. Now we get to train our eye to see the best in ourselves, too, and to see God working in our lives, when it just seems like a fruitless mess to us. God sees possibilities where we see impossibilities. We may think that to invest our time or money in some people or situations is a waste of time. We calculate the risk and we aren’t going there. God doesn’t see things like we do, at all. God just goes on happily casting seeds and letting them fall where they may, taking root where they may, and growing where they may. God isn’t taking it personally that some don’t grow. But when something does grow, God is celebrating it and taking joy in it. What it would be like if we adopted the kind of joy that God does, trying new things without fear, dancing through life, generous with the seeds of love and just pouring them all over everyone? When they don’t take root, who cares! Move on. We didn’t lose anything in the effort. And when they do take root and grow, what opportunity for celebration!
So let us go forth in the Spirit, without fear. Let us share our love freely, let it fall where it may. If it doesn’t take root, no biggie. If it does, let us celebrate, going forth in joy and being led back in peace until all people and trees and mountains and hills clap their hands and burst forth in a song of praise and flourishing life in honor of God, fulfilling God’s vision for what this world truly can be, a life-giving place for all God’s creatures.