Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Let anyone with ears listen!
I took the Seed Savers Exchange for granted when we lived in
Seed Savers is the largest seed saving exchange in the country, and probably
one of the largest in the world. Their Heritage Farm is on the same road as the
elementary school Phoebe and Zach attended. We would drive past it every day
going to and from school nine months out of the year.
But I never thought much about it or about what they did until one or two summers before we moved down here, and my sister had an old college friend visiting her. The friend came to Decorah specifically because she wanted to visit Seed Savers. Seeing Jill, who was spending the summer in Decorah was a happy coincidence. Jill and I went with her friend to Seed Savers, and it was the first time I had the chance to wander around both the farm and the large exchange and store.
Seed Savers Exchange is what its name suggests. It is a place where heritage seeds are saved and exchanged, and the farm is a living, dynamic example of biodiversity; a diversity that is being threatened if not completely lost with the engineering of seeds for vegetables and flowers. An heirloom tomato is not just a name for a variety of tomato plant. The seeds that created that tomato have been passed down from generation to generation. Diane Ott Whealy, the woman who, with her former husband, started Seed Savers back in the 1970’s was given seeds by her father for the purple morning glories that bloomed every summer on her parent’s front porch. Those seeds, he told her, were brought by her great-grandfather from
when her family first immigrated to this country. Those seeds were as much an
heirloom of her family as any antique piece of furniture. Immigrants would
bring seeds with them when they journeyed here. So part of the mission of Seed
Savers is not only to preserve and conserve the vast variety of seeds while we
still have them, it is also to link seeds to our history. As the informational
video on the Seed Savers website states, every seed tells a story.
Let anyone with ears listen!
Seeds, the sower and soil are at the heart of our story from Matthew’s gospel. Not only do we have the parable of the sower and the seeds that Jesus shared, we have his explanation about it as well. Biblical scholars speculate that Jesus’ explanation of his parable was actually added later by the gospel writer. In the verses that are skipped, the disciples asked Jesus about why he taught in parables in the first place. We may take Jesus’ use of parables for granted – Jesus told stories to make a point – but it would seem that even the disciples’ wondered why their Rabbi used this particular form of teaching so often. Let’s remember what parables were and for the purpose they were used.
Parables were not just a story for the story’s sake. Jesus was not trying to offer the crowds a diversion by telling them this parable. Parables were stories that packed a punch. Jesus told them to make a point. That point would have definitely been surprising, and in the case of so many of Jesus’ parables, it would have been shocking as well. His plot twists and unexpected meanings would have offended some who listened to him; while others would have been comforted by them. But regardless of the emotions they brought to the surface of the hearers, Jesus’ parables also made people think. I suspect the people in the crowds gathered around Jesus thought about his parables for a long time – after they had gone home, gone back to their work, or while they were lying in bed at night. The parables Jesus told were not merely for entertainment purposes. They packed a punch.
So what would have been the shocker in this story? As I was studying this passage, I read a commentary where the author used the illustration of a farmer going out to plant crops. The farmer climbs onto whatever farm implement it is that is used for this purpose, (after all those years in Iowa, I should remember this piece of machinery) but he immediately starts spilling seeds out at the front door of his house. The farmer keeps throwing seeds out without regard for where they are landing his entire trek to the actual fields. Some of the seeds land on the gravel driveway. Some of them land by the side of the road. Some of them actually fall in the field where they are supposed to be, but there is no deliberate planting. The seeds are just tossed out willy nilly.
You do not have to be a farmer to think that this sounds odd at best. Why would any farmer waste his or her seeds like that? That’s not planting a field, that’s just random seed sending. What would the people in the crowds around Jesus have thought about this sower? Essentially the sower Jesus told about did the same thing. He went out with his seeds, no plan, no crops to plant, and just started throwing those seeds everywhere and anywhere.
I suspect that those folks listening to Jesus would have thought that this was reckless, wasteful behavior. Seeds were precious. Land for planting was limited. You don’t just recklessly throw your seeds wherever you feel like it. But that’s exactly what this sower did. He sowed his seeds on the path where he walked. He sowed his seeds on rocky ground, where there should not have been the slightest chance of the seed taking root. The sower threw seeds amidst thorns; surely knowing that any plant that grew there would be at risk of being choked by those same thorns. Even the seeds that fell on good soil varied in actual grain production: a hundred, sixty, thirty.
The sower was a profligate with his seeds. He was wasteful, reckless, careless, extravagant. The sower was not cautious or careful. He just sowed seeds everywhere and anywhere. The shocked and appalled crowds must have wondered what point Jesus was trying to make.
In the explanation Jesus gave to the disciples, he focused on the seeds. The seed is the Word of God, the Word of the kingdom. Someone who hears the Word but does not understand it, well that person is represented by the path. The rocky ground is the person who hears the Word, receives it joyfully, happily, but it does not take root in that person. When trouble comes, the Word is forgotten and the person “falls away.” The thorns are the person who hears the Word, but is too caught up in the cares and woes of the world to fully let it settle in his or her heart. But that good soil? That good soil is the person who hears the Word, understands the Word, believes the Word, and lives the Word.
Whether or not Jesus offered this explanation at the time, or Matthew added it in later as a help to the congregation who listened to him, what we learn is that the soil is us. There’s nothing wrong with that. Growing up, I was encouraged to be that good soil. But I realize that while there is good soil in me, there are also rocky spots and thorns. The path is never far away. The seeds of the Word are sown in me, and sometimes they take root, but often they are choked out by thorns or rocks or birds snatch them up. I have to persist at being good soil. I have to work at it. It does not just happen. It takes cultivation and ongoing tending on my part.
This is the explanation Jesus gave to the disciples, but it was not an explanation given to the crowds. The people who listened to Jesus did not hear about the seeds representing the Word of God or the soil as an illustration for their hearts. They heard about a sower, a reckless, extravagant sower who sowed seeds carelessly and heedlessly.
It seems to me that if the seeds are the Word, and the different soils are us and our hearts, then the sower is God. What does this parable say about God? Even more, what does it say about God and God’s grace? God sows seeds of love and grace and mercy extravagantly, recklessly, flinging them everywhere and anywhere. There is no plan, no map for planting. The seeds are just sown. As far as I can tell, there is no indication that this happens only once but again and again and again.
God sows the seeds of love, grace, mercy, justice, righteousness, peace over and over, flinging them extravagantly into the world, into us, without caution or consideration. They are sown for any and all. No matter how the thorns or rocks try to choke out God’s Word of love and peace, no matter how my heart is divided between good soil and rocky ground, God sows with reckless abandon. Again and again and again. Thanks be to God!
Let anyone with ears listen!
Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.