Gracious God, generous and wise, how you love us! You come to us in ways old and new, always inviting, always teasing our imaginations, always hoping that we will dare to love you back. You are the source of the fullness of life we long for. You are our Home, our holiness and our hope. You are our God. Make us your joyful, generous and wise people. Amen.
This Sunday we read the very familiar Parable of the Sower. Whenever we read a very familiar parable, we tend to fall back on things we’ve thought about it before or how we have heard it explained. There are two problems with this. The obvious one is that we miss the opportunity to engage the Word in a fresh way. The less obvious problem is the idea that parables can be explained.
Parables are not stories with morals, easily explainable. I regret that the author of Matthew chose to include an “explanation” of this parable. It is another example of disciples not getting it right – thinking parables were tidy little stories whose meaning could be dissected. They are not. They were a unique way for Jesus to engage the hearts and imaginations of people, to invite them to imagine the world and their lives anew.
John Dominic Crossan calls parables “lures” to entice people to imagine and engage the kingdom of God (First Light: Jesus and the Kingdom of God, Living the Questions 2009). He asks us to picture the setting of their telling. Imagine the crowd gathered on the lakeside to hear the holy man speak from his boat. Many of them would be subsistence farmers, scratching a living from the land. They would hear A sower went out to sow…and some seeds fell on the path. “That’s careless!”, one might shout. Another might mutter to his neighbour: “That’s crazy, does he think seeds can be wasted like that? He’ll never make it as a farmer.” The mutterings escalate as more and more seed is wasted. Then Jesus gets to the end of the story and they hear Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!… “What? No one gets those kinds of yields! The most I’ve ever got is tenfold and that was a really unusual year.” “What kind of seeds is this guy using? I want some.” “Wait, maybe this is not about seeds and soil.” “Well, what’s it about then?”
This parable has been called variously the Parable of the Sower (how God is generous and profligate with God’s gifts), the Parable of the Soil (how good soil is necessary for good yields, and how we might be the soil and the seeds the Word of God), and the Parable of the Hundredfold Harvest (a miraculous result from risk-taking). And there are more interpretations. As Susan Durber reminds us: Jesus was part of a great tradition of storytelling that didn’t think that stories were owned by anyone, or had only one ‘correct’ meaning (Surprised by Grace: Parables and Prayers, London: Granary, 2013). He was not a moraliser or a blamer and shamer; he was an inviter and a surpriser and a great storyteller.
There is no one right interpretation to any parable…there is only what is in our hearts and heads and what the Holy Spirit might be wanting to remind or tell us. Which is why imagining we are in the crowd, hearing alongside the Galileans, is the place to be when reading this parable. Then we might hear what we most need to hear. Today I heard that I should not assume people to be uninterested in God or faith. Just sow the darn seed! Take the risk!
What do you hear today?
I love it that Jesus invites us to use our imaginations. It is one of our most important organs. If we can’t imagine a better way or a better world or the kingdom of God, we can’t get there. We won’t have the direction of travel or the excitement of energy directed and fuelled by the Spirit. As Paul says in our Romans reading (8:11), the Spirit dwelling in us is life. Hallelujah! Amen!
Painting to Google: Vincent van Gogh, The Sower
Hymn Lord, you have come to the lakeside (Common Ground 72)
Lord, you have come to the lakeside
looking neither for wealthy or wise ones.
You only asked me to follow humbly.
O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,
kindly smiling, have spoken my name.
Now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas.
You know so well my possessions;
my boat carries no gold and not weapons;
but nets and fishes – my daily labour. Chorus
You need my hands, full of caring,
through my labours to give others rest,
and constant love that keeps on loving. Chorus
You, who have fished other oceans
ever longed-for by souls who are waiting,
my loving friend, as thus you call me. Chorus
May the One who speaks in stories
open our imaginations and our hearts
so that we may follow and find
the life God has for us and the world.