And he told them many things in parables, In the name of the F, S, HS
Today we hear the very first parable spoken by Jesus. I love the parables. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading through many of the parables. At the end of this section of Matthew, the gospel writer will tell us that “Jesus did not say anything to the crowds except in parables.”
Think about this. When the very Word and Wisdom of God, the Instrument through whom all things were made and in whom all things are sustained became Incarnate and could speak to us face-to-face without the intermediation of priest, prophet, or psalmist – he taught in stories. When God wants to teach us a deeper truth, he tells us a story.
Parables are great because they challenge us to work through the depth of their meaning and they open to us new ways of thinking about God and ourselves.
There are different ways of interpreting the parables:
1. Literal – As we know, the parables aren’t to be taken literally. Jesus wasn’t giving agricultural advice. To read the parable literally is to lose its meaning. But then neither are any of the stories of God to be taken in this manner.
2. Allegorically – The parables are expressly allegorical. God is the Sower. His word is the Seed. We are the Soil. But once we have figured out the allegory (and here Jesus does it for us) we have only begun to scratch the surface of the meaning of the parable. We are not to stay in the allegory but to go deeper.
3. Moral – Most parables, like most stories, have a moral. And here the moral is “Be the good soil.” If you listened to Randy’s sermon last Sunday, he spoke of how we are to be good soil. Last week in the sermon on the easy yoke of Christ, Randy said:
A spiritual yoke of our lives with Christ enables us to discipline the passions and rebellion in each of us to render service to God and our Neighbor. The famer plows open the hard crusty earth to soften it for sowing good seed for harvest. The plowing isn’t easy, but the path of spiritual obedience and inner discipline opens the heart to new graces from God. And the yoke not only enabled oxen to plow the heard earth, but it also enabled them to cultivate it and diminish the weeds and thorns from choking the growing plants. Moral – Be good soil. Yoke yourself to Christ.
4. But when we look at the parables, we must first start with the Theological. The first question to ask is what does the parable say about who God is. First and foremost, the scriptures are about God, and not about us.
For example, the parable of the Prodigal Son isn’t really about the Son, but is about the Father. The Father, · who regardless of the actions of the son and · regardless of the shallow non-apology given by the Son, ·welcomes his child home with open arms, ·places his own ring on the son’s finger, ·his own robe on his son’s shoulders, and ·fully restores him to his former status as his own child ·without exacting any additional punishment from him. It’s a parable primarily about the boundless grace of God.
The parable is about God, not us.
And when we look at the Parable of the Sower theologically, what we see is a story about a Prodigal God. It is the story of a spendthrift, reckless, and wasteful sower.
A good farmer closely husbands his seed. Two millennia ago, a farmer didn’t buy his seed, rather the seed was grain saved from the last harvest that was neither eaten nor sold by the farmer. A good farmer wouldn’t waste his precious seed by sowing it in the path, or on rocks, or in the thorns.
If you have ever been to our house, we have a little garden out back. We have a coquina path that runs through the garden and each of the beds is enclosed by railroad ties. Every year Amy plants the garden. She sows carrots, beets, peas, and other seeds. She doesn’t plant the seeds on the coquina path. She doesn’t plant the seeds in the railroad ties. And she doesn’t plant the seeds without first removing all the weeds. She only plants in the good soil. If you have a garden or have ever seen a garden, you understand. Seeds are only planted in good, deserving, well-prepared ground.
But the sower in the parable, the God of whom Jesus speaks, sows the seed everywhere regardless of the status or merit of the place.
In preaching on this parable, John Chrysostom, the 4th c. Archbishop of Constantinople says:
For as the sower makes no distinction in the land submitted to him, but simply and indifferently casts his seed; so Jesus Himself too makes no distinction of rich and poor, of wise and unwise, of slothful or diligent, of brave or cowardly; but He goes unto all
And how can it be reasonable to sow among the thorns, on the rock, on the path? With regards to the seeds and the earth it cannot be reasonable, but in the case of men’s souls and their instruction, it is abundantly praiseworthy. For it is impossible for the rocks to become earth, or the path not to be the path or thorns not to be thorns. But in regards to men’s soul’s rocks can change into rich land, paths are no longer trampled upon, and thorns may be destroyed, and therefore he sows abundantly.Homily 44 on Matthew
And so it is with our Prodigal God. He sows the seed of his word and love and of the Spirit of life and peace without any distinction. That is the Good News. As we read in Romans 5 two weeks ago – While we were still at enmity with God, Christ died for us. You see, God doesn’t sow only among the good soil. He doesn’t sow only among the righteous and the deserving. That was the teaching of the Pharisees. The Pharisees taught that you had to make the right sacrifices and obey the black-letter law of the scriptures in order to receive God’s grace.
But what we see throughout the Gospel is Jesus sowing among the rocks and the thorns and on the path – he eats with sinners and takes company with prostitutes and tax collectors, Samaritans, and the outcast. He sowed abundantly, even among those who would betray and execute him.
That is our story. This is our God. A God who makes no distinction among whom he sows. A God of radical inclusivity whose love and whose grace know no bounds. And that is the Good News. Whenever our lives are hardened, or rocky, or choked out by the cares of this World, he continues to sow his love and grace within us.
To move quickly from the Theological to the Moral – As Christians, we proclaim that we are little Christs. For just as our Lord sows abundantly, so too are we called to do the same.
If you accompany Rick during Mobile Meals or Tim down to Community Kitchen, or Dan Brown over to the Boys and Girls Club, they will show you what it means to sow abundantly and with reckless abandon. They serve everyone, those of both good soil and those who are a beaten path or whose souls are rocky. For rocks can change into rich land, paths are no longer trampled upon, and thorns may be destroyed.
This is our calling. A calling to imitate our Lord and our God. For like him, we are to sow the love of God abundantly and without distinction among all people. For no person is beyond being a recipient of the Grace and Love of Jesus Christ.
And so. As you leave here today. Go forth, and be like the Prodigal Sower.