During the last four months, I have been part of a group that has engaged our Sunday lectionary readings through the ancient practice of Lectio Divina. For those of you who don’t know, Lectio Divina is a kind of prayerful reflection on a particular passage through which participants seek to find themselves in the story of Scripture and to hear what the Spirit is saying to us or asking of us. This past Wednesday, we spent time on this parable – and, when the question was asked, “Where do you see yourself in this passage,” each of us attempted to identify ourselves with a particular type of soil. This seems a natural thing to do, given Jesus’ explanation of the parable offered in the second half of our Gospel reading. Each of us, to some degree, acknowledged our desire to be the good soil, to have hearts that have been tilled in such a way that the seeds of the gospel not only take root but produce plentiful and abundant harvest. And yet, we each also acknowledged the reality that we sometimes don’t understand, that we sometimes fail to endure in the face of trouble or persecution, that we’re sometimes distracted by the cares of this world and tempted by the lure of wealth.
What kind of soil am I? It seems this is the question we are supposed to ask when we read this passage; and, at least on some level, this question in the context of Jesus’ explanation of the parable is important for us to wrestle with, to discern, to use as an examination of our lives and our hearts so that we might know the ways that we have received and continue to receive the good news of Jesus Christ in our lives. Matthew seems to have intended to use this parable and its explanation to clarify the multitude of responses that the people Jesus encountered had to his preaching and teaching. And yet, in light of our other readings for this week, this parable presents a bit of a paradox. If the seed in the parable is supposed to represent the word of the kingdom, which ultimately comes from God, and if, as the vision cast by Isaiah indicates, that word never fails to accomplish that for which God purposes it, then how is it that some seed becomes food for the birds, others get scorched because of lack of root, and others still get choked out and wither away? Is this word that Jesus speaks of different than the word of God that Isaiah envisions as returning to God the intent with which it was sent out?
I wonder how different our conversation might have been on Wednesday evening if, instead of asking “where do I see myself in this passage,” we asked, “where do I see God in this passage?” Would we see God as the nutrients that make good soil good? Would we see God as the invisible force or process that causes the seed to mature, to sprout, to bear fruit? Would we recognize God in the metaphor of the Sower, the one who seems to cast the seed about so abundantly and, perhaps, recklessly? And, I wonder, would we have seen in that reckless sowing a metaphor for the grace and mercy that God so lavishly pours out on all creation?
Perhaps, in our present moment, this ought to be the first question we wrestle with. Where exactly do we see God in this passage and what might that teach us about where to look for God now? The parable that Jesus tells offers us a picture of a God who is impartial to the kind of soil on which the seeds of the kingdom are cast – no one is deemed unworthy to receive the word that establishes and exposes God’s reign. God is not concerned with wasting the seeds of the kingdom; they are cast far and wide with no thought about scarcity, with no worry about running out or losing the potential harvest.
God is a God of abundance, and not just in the context of the harvest but in the ways that God pours Godself into our world, in the ways that God continues to beckon us, to invite us into the fullness
of life found only in the word that God speaks to us. And so, Jesus bids us, “Let anyone with ears listen.” Do we hear the word of the kingdom that God has sown in and around us?
What does that abundance of God’s mercy and grace look like today? When we hear the word, abundance, it is easy to envision the kind of bountiful prosperity that is falsely promised by our society, looking more like the “lure of wealth” that Jesus speaks about. But the parable of the sower offers us another vision, a vision of abundance that is less to do with material wealth and “blessing” and more to do with the continued opportunity to hear the word of life and to respond, to allow the seed of God’s word to take root in our hearts and bear the fruit of wholeness, of righteousness and holiness. It looks more like the gift of mercy God offers us each time we are beckoned deeper into transformation, invited to turn again and again more fully toward God.
God’s abundant sowing is evident today in the grace that empowers us to stand against all things contrary to God’s reign in this world and in the mercy we receive when we seem to fail to get it “right.” We experience it every time we have the opportunity to give compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. We are drenched in it every time we feel the conviction to address the injustices that surround us. God is forever inviting us to move into greater alignment with God’s desires and love for all that God has created.
What soil am I? What soil are you? I think, if we’re honest, we would all affirm that each of the soils is found within each one of us. Yes, there are certainly things that each of us can do to till the soil of our souls so that we might hear the word of God, understand it, and respond to it with obedience. And yet, God does not wait for a perfectly tilled soil to plant the seeds of the kingdom. God sows with reckless abandon, and the good news about this vision of God is not our identification with the good soil; rather, the good news is to be found in the faithfulness of God, in the promise of God’s word not returning empty, in the shocking ways that that the seed God plants within us germinates and grows into the plentiful harvest of the reign of God in our world. And this, my friends, is news worthy of bursting into joyous song along with the mountains and clapping our hands in time with the trees of the field. May we have ears to hear and eyes to see the abundance of God’s seed sown in and among us.