Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
TEXT: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path . . . other seeds fell on rocky ground . . . other seeds fell among thorns . . . [but] other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain . . .”
Our gospel reading focuses on the ones to whom God’s Word is addressed, and on the responsibility each of us has for hearing. While the major character is the one who sows, the focus is not on the sower, but on the soil—that which receives the Word.
How do we receive God’s Word? What kind of soil are we? Do we bear fruit? This parable tells us that the hearer has the power to thwart—or at least to divert—the productive power of the Word.
The Scriptures tell us that the Word has come to all creation, and, in some form, to every person.
In what ways has it come to us? We can identify parts of our lives that have received the Word gladly, and allowed it to flourish. But there are other parts of our lives that have been like hard paths, like rocky ground, or parts that have been choked with preoccupation.
This is true in our individual life. It is true also in our congregational life. And it is true of our society. These are the “hearers” of which each of us is a part.
We must confess that there is something in every hearer that has not heard, that does not hear, and does not want to hear. That is the sin that clings so closely to us.
There is in each hearer, whether in the individual, the congregation, or the society, a portion of life that is trampled hard by the daily traffic. It produces calluses so thick that there is no longer any sensitivity, and the Word cannot penetrate it.
There are small or great sins to which we have become accustomed. And the longer they are harboured, the less we notice them.
As individuals, perhaps we allow ourselves the thrill of malicious gossip disguised as “Christian concern.” Possibly we harbour petty resentments, prejudices and hatreds, telling ourselves they are justifiable.
In our local congregation, perhaps there is apathy towards community outreach or towards the plight of the poor and hungry.
Or maybe there is a callousness towards the financial needs of the pastoral charge or of the larger mission of the church. There may be lack of concern for global issues like peace, or economic justice. Or perhaps “church” has become a place we go to, rather than a people we are.
This deafness to the Word pervades our society as well, causing us as a people to become ingrown and insensitive to what God’s Word would have us do.
Where, in our society, has the Word fallen on hard and hostile places? Well, we seem to keep electing politicians who promise to give us more, while cutting back on health care budgets, and slashing funding for programs that help the poorest and weakest amongst us.
Are we willing to balance provincial and federal budgets by letting our neighbours’ children go hungry?
If the answer is “yes,” then our hearts have indeed become as hard as pavement! How can God’s Word find nourishment there? Where can the seed broadcast by God’s Spirit take root in us?
This past week, as I was thinking about what it means for seed to fall on the path, I remembered once, years ago, walking along an abandoned blacktop road north of Winnipeg.
It was amazing to see the power of the seed in that blacktop. The surface was full of cracks, and grass and weeds and even wildflowers were growing in the cracks. In fact, there were places where the grass was two or three feet high.
Seeds, thank God, can be powerful and persistent.
In Matthew’s gospel, a bit later in the 13th chapter, Jesus tells the story of the mustard seed and of the leaven:
[Jesus said] “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” [And then he] told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Matthew 13:31-33)
It may look like the advantage is held by the field, by the three measures of flour, by the blacktop. It would seem that the odds are on the side of the powers of darkness. But the Scriptures teach that the darkness has not been able to overcome the Word—for out of the Word shines brilliantly the light of divine life.
And so we must watch for the cracks in our personal lives, in our congregations and in society; cracks in which the Word may lodge and begin its transforming power.
In the church, at least, we may hope to find some who will at least pour the occasional bucket of water into our cracks—who will offer encouragement for sprouting faith.
But of course—even within the church—there are places of shallow soil, where there is too little Christian nurture, too few Christians, too little advocacy.
Sad to say, too many congregations are just like that—places where the soil is not deep enough. Places where what looks like genuine faith is in reality but a thin veneer. In such places, the sprouting of the Word may be vigorous at first, but the vine of faith soon withers away.
And in each of the hearers—whether in myself, in my congregation, or in society—there is the problem of the divided life. We say, “yes, yes, yes” to the work of God’s Word, but we have so many vested interests—so many other concerns—that (like thorns) these intruders finally overshadow and thwart the Spirit’s working.
Thus far, the parable of the sower appears to be a commentary on sin. But we must not overlook the note of grace which is also sounded here. There is hope in this parable, also. For whether it be in myself, in my congregation, or in society, there is a part of each hearer that receives the seed of the Word with gladness—that brings forth an abundant harvest: 30-, 60-, and a hundredfold.
The gospel calls us to enlarge our hearts, to expand the cultivatable areas of our lives so that they can become even more productive.
And each hearer—whether it be the individual, the congregation, or society—should be receptive to God’s Spirit that moves us forward to that fulfillment of all things in Jesus Christ, when the whole of each hearer will be fully redeemed. For in this hope we are saved. We can take hope in God’s promise that the divine Word will not return to God empty, but it shall ultimately accomplish the purpose for which Christ was sent.