13 That same day Jesus left the house and went out beside Lake Galilee, where he sat down to teach. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he had to sit in a boat, while the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he taught them many things by using stories. He said:
A farmer went out to scatter seed in a field. 4 While the farmer was scattering the seed, some of it fell along the road and was eaten by birds. 5 Other seeds fell on thin, rocky ground and quickly started growing because the soil wasn’t very deep. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and dried up, because they did not have enough roots. 7 Some other seeds fell where thorn bushes grew up and choked the plants. 8 But a few seeds did fall on good ground where the plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered.
18 Now listen to the meaning of the story about the farmer:
19 The seeds that fell along the road are the people who hear the message about the kingdom, but don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the message from their hearts. 20 The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it right away. 21 But they don’t have deep roots, and they don’t last very long. As soon as life gets hard or the message gets them in trouble, they give up.
22 The seeds that fell among the thorn bushes are also people who hear the message. But they start worrying about the needs of this life and are fooled by the desire to get rich. So the message gets choked out, and they never produce anything. 23 The seeds that fell on good ground are the people who hear and understand the message. They produce as much as a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was planted.
I’ve always thought of this parable as an “us” and “them” parable.
That is, part of it talks about people like me and part of it talks about people not like me.
The people not like me are the people who don’t produce a good crop. The people like me are the ones who produce a bumper crop.
This seems like such a simple parable, especially for those of us who live in the middle of farm country. The whole point of planting seed is to raise a good crop. What else is there to say?
We all know you don’t spread seed on gravel. We all know you don’t plant seeds without first pulling out the weeds. It’s easy to dismiss this parable as a no brainer and file it under “common sense.”
I’d like to dig a little deeper, as long as we’re dealing with dirt. I have two questions to explore. First, how do I know for sure what kind of soil lies within me? Second, what is this crop Jesus speaks of?
We know…..because we know how parables work……that Jesus is not talking about farming. Jesus can use farming as an example, or building a house, or just about anything you can imagine, but he’s never talking about work: he’s always talking about people. His whole message, every message is about people. So who are the people in this parable?
Are they the seed? or the crop? Which is what? To save time, I am assuming that the seed is the the Word, the teachings, the lessons of Jesus. I am claiming that the seed is not just words on a page. I am declaring that this seed is alive, active, has potential, just like any seed we plant in the dirt.
So, we have three components, seed, soil, crop. Seed—what we hear. Soil…where it falls. Crop….what happens when the seed grows.
Let’s fit people into this riddle. Soil = people–who hear the word. Crop = what happens when people hear the word.
Let’s look at the soil. As I mentioned earlier, it is easy to think that this soil thing is pretty simple. How often have you heard these verses and let it go at that?
19 The seeds that fell along the road….
20 The seeds that fell on rocky ground….
22 The seeds that fell among the thorn bushes ……..
23 The seeds that fell on good ground………
It’s pretty simple. Examples of rocky ground and thorn bushes abound.
To some people, Jesus’ teachings are nonsense or impractical or illogical. To some people, it’s the latest fix, the latest fad. It’s fun for awhile, but then something goes wrong, and the easy fix isn’t so easy. For some people, life makes too many other demands, between work and family and other obligations, and there’s no time for Jesus. Let me give you an example I just heard from a friend. My friend’s grandson asked his grandma why he didn’t get to go to Sunday School anymore. My friend knew that he was going to wresting meets on Sunday mornings, but she didn’t say anything; she just looked at his father. His father said, “Well, we don’t want him to be overloaded with too many activities.”
Before we point too many fingers at the people who don’t get it, don’t stick with it, who don’t value this Jesus way of life, let’s examine ourselves.
First of all, most crops have to be planted over and over, right? We sow corn and oats and beans and beets and squash and onions every year. There are few perennial crops–alfalfa, berries, rhubarb, asparagus, garlic, that’s about all I can think of.
Everything else needs to be replanted, regularly; likewise the words of Jesus need to be replanted, repeated—and more than once a year. So we are fed, weekly, monthly. For those of us who read or reflect daily on the Word, the planting is continuous.
Here is my question: Are you always good soil? Am I always good soil? Let me speak just for myself. Sometimes, after the Word inspires me, I am distracted by the obligations I have set for myself, and I only think about how to get my work done in the most efficient way. Sometimes that efficiency causes me to neglect those who need me more than, say, the Democrats of Clinton County. Sometimes I am full of the gravel of the material luxuries of this world. I like pretty things in my house; I like to buy gifts for my family. I become upset because I can’t have something; then I lose my ability to nourish that Word.
Sometimes the word of God inspires me, but my environment poisons me with opinions and makes me cranky and judgmental. If I hang out with people who like to separate not only church and state, but church and life, I become selfish. If I think I’m better than the people who don’t do what I do or who don’t think like I think, I stop growing.
Sometimes I get carried away with wanting to solve the problems of the world and I lose sight of the problems right at hand. Sometimes I see the forest when I should be looking at the trees. The Word does not always thrive in me.
What I’m trying to teach myself–and you, if the Spirit is willing– is that this is not an “us” and “them” issue. It is a “me” issue. When we start drawing lines between ourselves and “them,” we lose a lot. We lose compassion. We lose empathy. We lose community. We lose credibility. My new favorite saying is “Anytime you draw a line between you and someone else, Jesus is on the other side.” 1As long as we mark a difference between “us” and “them,” we are excluding someone.
Jesus, on the other hand, was all about including everyone. Perhaps that is why he suggested that the seed might fall elsewhere. The other side of this story is that many seeds do grow just about anywhere. Look at the beautiful chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace growing right up to the side of the road. Look at the grass growing in the cracks in the sidewalk. And look at the weeds that are becoming resistant to Round Up!
What does this crop, the ideal crop look like? When the Words of Jesus are planted in our hearts, when our hearts are full of “good soil,” what happens when those seeds grow? What does Jesus see as the ideal crop for people? One of the phrases that comes to mind is “The Kingdom of God.”
What do you envision when you see the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is open to your interpretation. Does it mean that everybody, everywhere, goes to church for worship and Bible Study twice a week? Does it mean that “ In God we Trust is printed on government documents? Does it mean that the Crusaders were right in trying to kill all the Muslims? Does it mean that all Jews should convert to Christianity?
The more I study Jesus, the more radical he becomes. I think Jesus’ Old Testament roots inspired him.
Deuteronomy 10:18 The Lord defends the rights of orphans and widows. He cares for foreigners and gives them food and clothing.2 Does that include 39,000 foreigners under the age of 18 crossing illegally into this country?
My current conception of the Kingdom of God is that everybody is happy. Very simple. Everybody is happy because they have people who love them, they have enough to eat, they have clean, comfortable homes, they have lots of different kinds of friends, they have opportunity to give to others in ways that inspire them to grow. When sorrow or illness strikes, they are happy that they have people who are, likewise, happy to help them. In other words, everyone lives in community that welcomes, rather than demands, that includes, rather than judges.
I had lunch with a friend the other day who believes that people should be forced to do the right thing. I find that alarming, because since the day I was born I have refused to be forced to do anything. Just ask my mother. By the same token, we cannot force the Kingdom of Jesus on people. There are plenty of people around who are trying to force the Kingdom of God into existence.
The Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” On the other hand, there are those who promote Christian Dominionism. Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe the United States once was, and should again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy. Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.3
We fall somewhere in between there. As growing, blooming, flourishing plants, how do we meet Jesus’ expectations? We return to the Word for guidance: The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. Or, to keep it simple. Love God. Love your neighbor. We aren’t called to overthrow the government or bring people to church at gunpoint. We are called to follow Jesus, one step at a time, always trying to show our love to our neighbor, by word, by action, by prayer, by thought. If I can remember that Jesus is walking right beside me, watching me, I can be pretty impressive. When Jesus walks with me, other people join me. Have you ever noticed that? When you share your faith, you really share it; you don’t keep it to yourself. It spreads, like multiflora, like Queen Anne’s Lace, like an orange lily, one flower at at time, filling a ditch.
But sometimes I’m full of gravel, sometimes I’m choked by weeds, sometimes I’m all talk and no show.
A piece of folklore for you. When you walk into a field of oats, pluck a stalk and count the number of oats on the stalk. If there are two oats, the field will yield 2 bushels to the acre. If there are 90 oats on the stalk, the crop will yield 90 bushels to the acre. Those 90 oats on that one stalk came from one seed.4
8 But a few seeds do fall on good ground where the plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered.
Let us pray. Lord, keep planting your seed, keep watch over us as you nourish us so that your Kingdom flourishes. Amen.
1 “Nadia, the thing that sucks is that every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it” (p. 57). In Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber.2 Contemporary English Version (CEV)3 http://www.publiceye.org/christian_right/dominionism.htm4 Don Stange, 90 bushel to the acre, 2012.