Mark 4:1 Again he began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. 2He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:3‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ 9And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’
Today’s gospel reading from Mark was heard in God’s church just two weeks ago on Sunday, July 16, though read from Matthew’s gospel (13:1-23). This passage known as ‘The Parable of the Sower’ is familiar enough, but on that Sunday it was the first time I heard the story from the sower’s perspective. Through the years I have read and heard commentaries that have a lot to do with the seeds – where they land and how they grow or not – but very little about the sower, himself. Even in one of my favorite of Van Gogh’s painting entitled, “The Sower”, it is the land and light that garner attention – a crop ready for the seed being thrown.
I live in a region of the country that is peppered with crops of grapes, hops, apples, walnuts, almonds, olives and assorted grains. Though I have never actually seen any of these crops ‘sowed’ – today by machine, not hand – I have seen all the preparation that takes place beforehand. The soil loosened and amended, weeds (tares) removed, furrows dug to specific depths, watered just enough to soften the growing space for the new seeds. And every few years, the crops dug up or the trees cut down so the soil can be restored, the crops fallowed. And all this takes place in certain seasons and specific times of the calendar year, adjusted when conditions such as drought and climate change manifest. Bottom line, the soil gets a lot of attention when it comes to growing rightly the seed of choice.
But, really, bottom line it comes down to the sower doesn’t it? All that preparation means nothing if the sower has thrown the seed willy nilly into the soil, amended, watered, fallowed or otherwise.
The parable Jesus tells us has the sower throwing the seed – God’s Word – everywhere; rocks, paths, cropland – here, there, everywhere – and not carefully cultivated and prepared fields. Surely the seed won’t yield fruit if aimlessly scattered, just as birds aren’t grown from the seed as depicted in the ‘Bizarro‘ panel by Dan Piraro inserted here.
Maybe we should look at the seed the sower throws differently. Not as a word that doesn’t take root in some places and with some people, but as a gift from one who shows no partiality – who wants the good news scattered and the Word to be given freely to the world – to places and people most would say has no chance of taking root let alone yielding fruit.
Seeing this parable through the eyes of the sower – the one who throws the seed – and not through the eyes of the particular land or people on which the seed lands – helps me see God’s heart for all of us. The sower gifts the word, gifts grace, gifts faith – throws it out season after season, joyfully and hopefully. “Here, loved one, here, take this. Baptized? Take this seed of faith and grow it, live it. Imprisoned unjustly Jean Valjean? Take this seed, my Word, and let it grow in you and transform you. And here you in the desert lands of North Korea, here’s my Word of hope for you.”
A happy scatterer, our Lord God is. Season after season, in one craggy or soil enriched place after another, he sows.
Praise God on whom all blessings, seeds and words flow.