Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.9Let anyone with ears – listen!’
18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
The word of the Lord
Please join me in prayer:
Source of Life may all that offer this today be acceptable in your sight, Amen.
Today’s scripture is a popular one among biblical storytellers and so all of us have heard this many times in many ways. We have heard many interpretations as well, so many in fact that in all likelihood we all think “Oh I know that one, it’s an old one and I like what it says.” I thought the same thing, at first, but then I began to look more closely at what was being said and what I thought I heard and what I was actually hearing. I was surprised to realize, I hadn’t heard it all.
Parables are multi-layered, like a Russian doll, you think there is only one doll until you start opening it up and discover many little dolls hiding within. Parables are like that, layers wrapped in layers. I didn’t read the middle portion of this scripture where Jesus tells his disciples one very important lesson, and that is those who want knowledge will open his parables up to discover the many layers, messages, hidden within, and those who don’t will simply hear a story about a really bad farmer. So I am going to try and open this story up bit, and, maybe we will find a layer within we didn’t expect.
Because this is such a familiar story to all of us I am going to try something a little different this morning and hope that we all see this story in a new light. Because this is such a visual story I am going to lead you in a guided meditation. I am going to read only verses 1-17; so get comfortable, with both feet on the floor.
Now close your eyes and take a deep slow breath, let it out slowly, … take another deep slow breath, … let it out slowly.
You are one of the disciples of the teacher Jesus and after spending the night in the home of a friend Jesus goes out early in the morning to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. … Many people come to see and listen to this teacher of yours and to hear what he has to say, … so many in fact that there is no room for Jesus … to sit or stand on the beach. … Jesus asks one of your fellow disciples to get a boat and pull it up on the shore. … He gets in and asks everyone to sit. … You and the other disciples sit in the sand forming a half circle around the boat and the crowd finds their places behind you. … As you sit and wait for the crowd to become silent you are aware of your surroundings, … of the sound of the water lapping gently on the shore, shore birds calling, … a gentle breeze blows across the water, … and there is the pleasant smell of fresh fish coming from the boat. … The sun hasn’t yet climbed far into the sky but it is warm on your back and the sand is still comfortably cool.
Jesus begins to speak.
“‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. … 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, … and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, … where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But … when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, … they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. … 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, … some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. … 9Let anyone with ears – listen!’”
You and your fellow disciples are confused by the story … it seems simple yet you know there has to be more to it … or Jesus wouldn’t have told it. … So one of the disciples ask a question; … “Teacher, … ‘Why do you speak in parables? … We are confused but we know there is more to this than a simple story’”
Jesus smiles at you and says:
‘To you it has been given to know the secretsof the kingdom of heaven, … but to crowds … it has not been given. … 12For to those who have, will be given more, … and they will have an abundance; … but from those who have nothing, … even what they have will be taken away. … 13The reason I speak to them in parables is that … “seeing they do not perceive, … and hearing they do not listen, … nor do they understand.” … 14With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
16But blessed are your eyes, … for they see, … and your ears, … for they hear. … 17Truly I tell you, … many prophets and righteous people … longed to see what you see, but did not see it, … and to hear what you hear, … but did not hear it.
[Pause for moment and then ring the chime]
Well did you hear a new message in the story? Did you hear the story open up in a new way and did you find a new layer that you hadn’t seen or heard before? I cannot speak for you I can only speak of my own heart. I can only speak of what I have heard. And, I would like to offer my budding new understanding of this parable, a new layer for me. Your new layer maybe different from mine and that’s ok, we learn from each other and my layer of this story may or may not resonate with yours but it might be a layer you hadn’t seen before and cause you to think. I hope you will tell me yours sometime so that you will cause me think.
So here is the new layer I discovered as I listened to Jesus. I didn’t feel like a disciple in the story, rather I felt like one of the crowd who was thinking about following Jesus. When I heard the story I thought Jesus was comparing me to the seed being sown and I wasn’t sure I liked what I heard. I was close enough to hear the question of the disciples and Jesus answer and my first thought is “How rude of Jesus not to make the message plain to all of us.” Then I thought again, “OK, if there is a hidden message, what is it? And, how do I tease it out?”
As you can see this internal conversation has caused me to almost miss the rest of the Jesus’ answer so I listen again and hear.
“18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’”
Ah … the story isn’t about being a careful farmer and planting the seed in good, rich and well watered soil after all. Rather it’s about who will have the staying power to follow Jesus and spread more seeds. OK, I get. But I still have questions. You see I do some farming, and yes my harvest is best when the seed is grown in the right place, but like all good farmers I’ve learned that seed that falls in difficult soil has its good qualities as well, it is often more hardy and will survive when no other seed would. What would it look like if considered for a moment the seed in this story and thought about how what the seed does and how that helps the sower? If I am going to be a seed for the Kingdom don’t I need to be strong?
Don’t I really need to work hard and build up my strength because this won’t be an easy task? So maybe falling on dry hard ground where I have to quickly dig deep into soil, taking up as much water as I can and learn to make efficient use of nutrients when they are available in order to grow. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? I know seeds that do that and they do well in dry places.
Or, what about the seed that falls on thorny ground and to prevent being overrun by thorns adapts and develops protection that would keep the thorns from killing me. I’ve seen plants do that as well so I know it works and such plants thrive. Or, consider the seed that falls on rocky ground. Here I have to learn to extend my roots around obstacles, breaking down some of the rocks into new soil. With deep, strong roots, I will do quite well, I know that because I’ve seen plants that do. So while I’ve not landed in an ideal place, I learned to survive and I may have produced only 10% compared to the 30 or 60% of the seeds planted in good soil. But that’s still something and there will be seeds for the sower to spread around in the next year. And if there is a draught, or someone seeds the farmers field with weeds, or he has to sow his seed in a rocky field I know that the seed that has had to struggle will do very well and produce a crop, which could mean the difference for the farmer between eating and starving.
How do I compare that scenario to Jesus answer? Well being a seed on the dry, hard ground of kingdom means I have to work hard at understanding. Not giving up but keep digging for the treasure found within me and those around me even when it seems hopelessly dry. When, I land in an area where the temptations of the world try to tear me away from my path to follow Jesus, I have to work harder to keep the message of the kingdom in front of me while I work within the world. And, when I hear the kingdoms message and find it sweet like honey but the world lays obstacles in my path I have to remember to let my roots grow with study and contemplation in order to break down the rocks in my path so that I am able to spread my seed-children, the good news of the Kingdom, in new soil.
Why wouldn’t I want to be planted in nice rich soil, with plenty of nutrients, in other words, why would I not like the task of spreading the word of the kingdom to be easy? Well, from a farmer’s perspective, seed that is always grown in nice rich soil does produce a lot of seed; however, a lot of that seed will not have the ability to fight off disease, or draught. That means if there is any kind of environmental stress your crop will most likely fail. However, if you harvest seed from plants that have had to withstand stress the resulting plants will be strong and healthy even under stressful conditions and the farmer has a crop to sell and eat.
It’s the same with the seed of the kingdom. If receiving the word is easy and you don’t have to work for it then when something challenges you, you and your community will struggle and maybe not survive. It has been my experience that working hard for anything means I value it more and I learn to distinguish what is false and what is true because I need to do it to live into the message Jesus taught me.
Jesus told this story because he knew what his disciples, and anyone else who followed him, would need strength in order to stand against the world’s trials, temptations, and obstacles as they spread the word of the kingdom of God. He knew they were going to be tested with many trials and how they responded to those trials would test their resolve and determine whether or not the Good News was spread. So his disciples were going to have to dig deep into inner territory, sending down strong roots into their soul to anchor their faith and learn to protect themselves from thorny individuals by loving instead of hating them. So you see it wasn’t the easy road and productive communities that defined the movement called THE WAY, it was those who experienced suffering, struggle, trials, doubts, who loved their enemies despite persecution that defined the followers of Jesus.
That definition of struggle and hardship is what defines us today, or should be anyway. Maybe in years past some of us have had it so easy to be “Christian” that we have forgotten what it means to be a follower of THE WAY. Those who cannot bring themselves to dig deep within, to doubt, question and be willing to live into mystery and paradox may fall by the way side. But some will strike out into the wilderness and learn how to thrive and how to spread the Good News despite draught, thorns or obstacles.
So my question to each of you is what do you identify with in this parable? Mine was the seed on less than ideal ground. Are you the seed on good soil, but when disaster strikes you are unable to go on? Or, are you the seed that lands in dry, thorny, rocky land, are you the seed that fights and struggles bringing into fruition the best fruit you can? We all have choices; I’ve chosen what I will do. How do you choose?
Ruth Jewell, ©Sermon, Queen Anne Christian Church, July 13, 2014