Over the next few weeks, the Gospel readings will consist of the entire 13th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout this teaching, Jesus will offer several parables to illustrate for his listeners what he means by the kingdom of heaven. In this parable, he’s not only addressing his first disciples but, as with all scripture, he’s addressing us too. This parable is an invitation to ask, how can we make the soil of our hearts more fertile to receive the seed that is the word of the kingdom? How can we be the good soil so we can produce grain a hundredfold, and be part of a great effect that makes more and more seed, that can be sown near and far and take root in places we may never dream of.
Gardeners and farmers tell us that soil that is good for planting has particular characteristics: good soil has a lot of humus—decayed material like grass roots and leaves—that encourages good nutrients, good drainage and good aeration. Good soil has room for water and air to move through it and get to seed and plant roots. And although it seems like it’s just an inert substance, good soil is full of life. In some places, good soil for planting exists because fire has burned off all the useless weeds and saplings, preventing forests from growing. So, good soil seems to be the result of letting some stuff go, die even, perhaps getting burned away.
The same may be said of our hearts. To be receptive to the word of the kingdom, we may need to let some old, false ideas go, die even. To let idols, go or have them taken from us may feel as painful as having them burned away, but letting them may be the first step in making healthier soil. Letting in life-promoting, wholeness-producing understandings of Jesus and the true nature of God’s reign can turn worthless clay into soil good for planting. We can be the good soil in which seeds take root and grow into healthy, seed-bearing grain. The sower is often taken to be God or Jesus, and that’s a good analogy. God in Jesus flung the seed of the word of the kingdom wherever he went, and it found good soil in some places where others thought nothing good or holy could grow. God in Jesus never said a word about some people deserving to hear good news and others not. Jesus sowed the word of the kingdom, wherever he went.
To the first disciples, to the early Church, to us, Jesus says, there is nothing wrong with the seed. The sower is dependable. But here’s what happens when the seed falls on different kinds of ground. Trust the sower. Trust the seed. Be good soil. Be good soil, but take a clue from the sower too.
So far so good, however What if Jesus’ word for us has as much to do with the sower as the soil?
Perhaps Jesus has another good word for us in this parable: an explanation and reassurance that has to do with the sower rather than the soil. Perhaps Jesus has an invitation for us to be sowers and not just soil.
The sower’s approach to sowing is carefree, to say the least. The sower flings seed as he goes, with seeming disregard for where the seed will end up. Shouldn’t the precious seed be saved for careful deposit in some meticulously prepared narrow furrow where it has a better chance of germination and survival? Not with this sower. To this sower, it’s as if the seed is so precious, he can’t hold on to it—it must be shared. To hold onto the seed would be to squander it. This sower’s method seems to be to fling the seed as he goes, letting it land where it will, and keep going. This sower covers a lot of ground, not sticking to one pathway or field or territory. The point, for this sower, is to sow, and he does.
Jesus doesn’t say, “I am the sower.” He just says that the sower sows the word, wherever the sower is, wherever the sower goes, and sometimes the word gets snatched away by the devil, and sometimes people fall away because the following is costly and risky, and sometimes the cares of the world choke the word, and sometimes, sometimes, the word bears an abundant harvest.
So, Jesus is not only saying to be good soil, to be open and receptive. Jesus is also saying, “Sow!”
Don’t worry about whether you think the soil you’re walking over is good or bad, receptive or not. Don’t be saving up seed for the places you think will be the most fertile. This seed is so precious, it must be shared, and there’s plenty more seed where that came from. Not every bit of fruitful sowing is going to happen in the tidy rows of our pews, although by God’s grace it can happen even there, for the Word of God brings the hope of a strong, enduring relationship with God and, through God, with all creation. God plants the seed of his Word because God is interested and cares for creation. We must be aware of the “signs of the times” and reflect on how God’s Word leads to hope and unity. We have God’s promise: The Word is fruitful and establishes the Kingdom of God.