Isaiah 55:10-13, Psalm 65:9-14, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
In today’s gospel, Jesus does as he often does, he uses a parable which can be heard two ways. After telling the crowd the parable of the sower, he then explains the parable to his disciples. This explanation seems clear enough. Jesus says the seeds represent the word of God and the soil represents those who hear God’s word.
So, if the hearer is closed minded, like the soil that is packed down, the word cannot penetrate the soil. If the hearer lacks depth of understanding, like the rocky soil, the person receives God’s word with joy – but does not take it to heart. I would refer to this as a shallow faith – it cannot withstand the challenges we face in life. When things go wrong, this person loses faith. This is a “feel good” faith rather than a faith that leads us to amendment of life. We are called by God to hear and respond, to answer God’s call to service. It is not easy to be faithful.
Jesus says the hearer who is like the thorny soil may hear and believe, may even desire to live a life of service, but all the cares and occupations of this life – or as Jesus says, “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” This one hits a bit close to home for many of us. We hear, we believe, we want to be faithful – but we lose focus as we strive to make a better life for ourselves and our families.
Then, there is the one who Jesus compares to the good soil. God’s word is received, takes root, and bears fruit. I dare say we know people like this – people do not live a life of self-service, but of service to others. We want to be like them. And, we might even be like them from time to time, but those pesky weeds keep getting into our garden and distracting us.
Which soil best describes you? If it isn’t the good soil, take heart. The gospel is not a gospel of fate – what is true today does not have to be true tomorrow. We are not powerless, we can change – with God’s help. Gardens can be grown virtually anywhere. We can remove the rocks and we can open our hearts and minds. We can remove the weeds from our gardens. And, God is more than willing to help us grow in faith.
And, with God’s help, God’s love can take root in the most unlikely of places – in the worst of circumstances. Driving up to the Norfolk Dam in Baxter County, you can see a tree growing out of the dam. I don’t know when it starting growing, but I’ve observed it there for over a decade. Seeing this tree is reminder to me that God comes to us where we are.
This parable can help us evaluate where we are, so that we identify how receptive we are to hearing and responding to God’s word. Good soil alone is not enough. Just as a gardener knows it takes work to keep the weeds out of the garden, we must continually work to remain faithful. We must never stop listening for God’s word.
The Biblical Scholar, William Barclay, noted that the second lesson in this parable is for the person who shares God’s word with others, rather than the one who hears it. Lest you think you’re off the hook here, you’re not. We are all called to share God’s word with others. Most Episcopalians like to chime in here with the quote attributed to St. Francis. “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary use words.”
We don’t like the thought of telling people about the love of God, we like to show them by how we treat, by acts of charity, and by how we live our lives. Both are important. Actions do speak louder than words, but it is also important that people understand we are not the source of the love we share. We need to give credit where credit is due. We love because we are loved. We share because we have been blessed.
This parable speaks to what happens when we do share the word of God with others – with or without words. If we think about it, the parable might suggest a careless gardener – one who scatters seeds freely, not worrying about where the seeds fall. The love of God is freely given without regard as to a person’s readiness to receive it.
Charities, with their limited resources, often try to gauge whether or not a person is responsible before offering their services. When we give, we want it to make a difference – a difference we can see. But sometimes what we see isn’t lasting and sometimes it is like a seed that germinates deep in the soil and produces fruit in abundance. We may or may not be around to see the fruits of our labors.
I can think of two instances where a kind word, an empathic response, from a co-worker helped me get through a difficult time. On the surface, it was just a compassionate response – but it made a difference. Sadly, I don’t think I ever shared this with either of them, but I still remember how important it was to me at the time.
When I worked in hospice, I was stunned to learn that a member of our board of directors got involved because of a phone call inquiring about our services for her mother. Her mother was never admitted, but the person who spoke to her was sympathetic and compassionate and she was so grateful that she got involved and supported our hospice.
We never know how the word of God might be received or the fruits it will produce. Some of our efforts will fall on packed soil, some of rocky soil, some among the weeds, and other on good soil. And sometimes, without any logical explanation a tree can grow in the most unlikely of places.
Let us pray.
Loving God, let us be instruments of your love. Help us to spread your word to those who need to hear that they are loved and valued by you. Help us, also, to tend to the garden of our souls, that the seeds you have planted in us might grow and produce in abundance. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.