Sunday, July 16, 2023
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Sowing the seeds of God’s Love
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Katy, TX 77450
Parable of the Sower in Matthew
Today we begin three weeks of readings from Matthew that are some of the famous parables that are such a prominent feature of his gospel. In Matthew’s gospel most of the parables are grouped together in this section of the gospel They are scattered about in the gospels of Mark and Luke.
There are several different types of parables. Depending on the commentator they are put in different classifications like parables of the kingdom or parables of grace. Parables were not invented by Jesus, but were a common form of rabbinic teaching.
The first thing we must realize is that the world of the parable will be different from our world. We must approach this parable with fresh eyes as we unpack what Jesus is saying. We must also appreciate that for Jesus the kingdom is not something in the distant future but very much of the here and now, even if the early church didn’t realize this.
The theologian C. H. Dodd defined a parable as “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt of its precise application to tease it into active thought.” So how does this parable tease us into active thought? Well before we can ask that question, we need to realize that we are at a distinct disadvantage as modern day urban dwellers. Jesus’ audience was predominately agrarian so the metaphors and analogies that he used were picked for their times.
As an example it may seem strange that the sower is scattering the seed in places it would not grow. That can have several meanings. If you consider this a parable of grace then the sower is sharing the seed with all without consideration of the likelihood of success. If you know that the method of planting in Jesus’ time is very different from ours that also makes a difference. A common method during the first century was to scatter the seed first, then till the seed into the ground. If it is a newer field the sower may not know what kind of soil they are dealing with. In this particular parable we are fairly certain where this took place and all four types of soil were all visible to the people gathered to hear the parable on the beach. You can see this if you visit this site in Israel today.
The beauty of this parable like any good parable is that it works on many levels. Now the traditional take on this is that Jesus is the sower, the seed is the gospel and we are one of the types of soil. However other interpretations have come up in the last 150 years. It is critical in this case to remember that there is no one interpretation even with Jesus’ teaching on the parable that is the second half of the reading. By the way we skip several verses in the middle. Jesus tells the parable to everyone, but the interpretation is only heard by the disciples. The missing part is dealing with those who do not understand or do not want to understand the Good News. That is also revealing.
Three years ago I talked about how we are all good soil but sometimes life happens and we turn into the path, the rocky soil, the thorns but ultimately we are all good soil we just may need some rehabilitation. Yet there is another way to look at this. We can also be the seed or we can be the sower. The interpretation then changes according to the place in which we find ourselves in the parable.
You see sometimes the seed that is being scattered is the word, the gospel. Jesus can be scattering the seeds, but the seeds are those disciples and followers or maybe the seeds are us! But there is still another way to look at this. I got started on this while I was listening to our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon to the Episcopal Youth Event in Baltimore last week. 1000 or more Episcopal youth gathered in Baltimore for what I can only call a revival and it sure looked like they had a great time. I’ve posted his sermon on our Facebook page and I highly recommend watching it even though it is 45 minutes long. It is Michael Curry after all.
He was talking about a little wedding he did a couple years ago, what he called that small family affair in England. Then he related this.
But after the service was over, I got on the plane, the flight to come back. And I can’t tell you how many times it happened in those first couple of weeks when someone would say—I had preached on love—somebody had said over and over again, I didn’t know Christianity was about love.
I heard it over and over. I’m not exaggerating, over and over again. And I realized that Christianity needs a revival. Christianity itself needs a revival, a revival to the teachings of this Jesus for whom love was at the very center of those teachings. And it dawned on me that maybe, maybe this Episcopal Church—don’t you worry about the parochial statistics; don’t you worry about all the facts and figures. If we love God and love our neighbor and love ourselves, we will work our way even out of our misery. Don’t you worry about it now. That’s all about love, all about love. All about love.
Then he said something that just blew me away. He said that we will start getting out of the mess this world is in “when the power of love overcomes the love of power.”
Now this is quite a commentary on the church in general when people don’t know that the church is supposed to be about God’s love. One man told Michael Curry, “if the church I had attended worshiped and served a God that you described, I might still be going to church.” And there I think you have a summary of what is behind so much of the decline in church attendance. We need the power of love to overcome the love of power. That is a powerful message.
Now back to the parable. What if we are the sowers and the seed that we are called to sow, is the message of God’s love? That would mean that like the sower in the parable we sow those seeds everywhere even in places where we might think it is a waste of time. Sharing the love of God and that message of love and hope is never a waste of time. We may never see what happens or see that a person’s life was changed but I know that we have all touched people. There are people that showed me God’s love that have no idea the profound effect they had on me and my faith journey. I have gone back and contacted the ones I could and let them know. One person said, “Really! I made that much of an impact? I thought I was a total failure at that point.” Yet he was a good and faithful person and my entrance back in 1971 into the Episcopal Church. Now it took me until 1992 to figure I was supposed to actually join the Episcopal Church, but he planted a seed without even knowing it. You see in 1972 I would have told you that I was the path where the birds snatched the seed away. In fact, I’ve probably been all 4 types of soil at one time or another and I suspect many of you could say the same thing. Eventually however that seed grew and produced a great return.
However now I am called to be the sower and maybe you are the seed and that big world out there is filled with all kinds of soil. But we are called to scatter the seeds of God’s love everywhere to everyone and let God worry about how, when and where it grows. We need people to realize like those folks who told Bishop Curry that they didn’t realize that yes the church is about love
This parable is one of great hope for you see this can also be the Parable of the extravagant yield. I haven’t touched on that idea yet. The good soil of the parable produces 100, 60 30 fold return. An 8-fold return was considered a good yield and 15 was extraordinary in the farming world then and today.
Finally you all can be the sower, sowing the seed of God’s love in a world that desperately needs it. Some will accept it, others will reject it, some will get interested for a while and then fall away, but you are all called to sow the seeds of God’s love with everyone you meet. If we do that, we can make this a much better world. For with the love of God all things are possible.