Since I was a child I struggled with this parable. It has always come across to me as being a rather threatening parable, especially in reading the explanation given in vs 10-20. As child we had a picture book of this parable with little seeds with friendly faces and little arms and legs. It was quite frightening to see some of these seeds being strangled by weeds, squashed by feet on the path, struggling to grow among rocks and withering and dying in the sun. There always remained the question “What if I was a seed that fell on the path or among the rocks and weeds? What if I didn’t fall on good soil and produce a crop like I was supposed to?
Interestingly, some Biblical Scholars believe that the commentary in vs 10-20 was not in fact Jesus own explanation of the parable, but rather the author’s interpretation of the parable of Jesus.
CH Dodd the great Welsh Congregationalist Biblical Scholar of the 1950's suggests that originally, before being included in Mark’s Gospel, this parable would have stood alone without any commentary or explanation as is the case with most of the parables that Jesus told. Even in this passage in Mark’s Gospel, before the commentary is given in vs 10-20, Jesus tells it to the crowds without any explanation. He simply ends with the words: He who has ears let him hear! He simply leaves the parable for the crowd to work out for themselves. Or for it to be like a seed planted in the soil of their minds, to germinate and grow within them on its own.
It seems that this was the way Jesus generally taught. He told stories and simply left them with his listeners to chew on and make sense of themselves. They were stories to move people to explore the meaning of God and their lives in a new way. They were not answers so much as questions. As a person chewed on the story and explored it's possible meanings so they began to see life and God and themselves from different perspectives. It was learner centred education.
And so today I am going to invite us to look at this parable with new eyes. And just for today we are going to leave behind the explanation of the parable that Mark provides and we are going to see if we can listen to this parable again for the first time as though we have never heard it before!
1. Firstly, how earthy it is!
It is not a super spiritual story. It is about earthy things: It is about seeds and soil, about pathways walked by people again and again and again until the earth is too hard for any seed to find root any more. It is about sunshine, weeds, rocks and an abundant harvest. It is full of the rich goodness of the earth!
The parable reminds us that Jesus is not some super-spiritual person who hovers above the earth. There is something earthy about Jesus and his teachings. In this sense he is deeply connected with his own Jewish tradition which reminds us that the whole earth are full of God’s glory (see Isaiah 6:3).
Next week at our harvest service, we are especially reminded of the goodness of the earth. Without the fruitfulness of the earth we could not live. Our survival as human beings depends on the earth. It is interesting to think that the earth does not need human beings. It is humanity that needs the earth.
As people who depend on the goodness of the earth, it is a reminder of our responsibility to do all in our power to care for the earth.
What might God be calling you to do to honour, preserve and care for the earth?
2. It is a parable of indiscriminate generosity
The sower is not miserly with the seeds. The sower puts a hand into the bag and throws seed all around. This is not a careful and miserly use of seed. Putting only a few seeds into specific designated holes: The sower is generous, indiscriminately generous.
God's love is showered on all. It reminds us of the passage in Matthew's Gospel where Jesus says that God sends rain on good and evil alike, God sends sunshine on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Indiscriminate love and generosity. When we give with generosity there is something godly and divine at work within us! God is indiscriminately generous!
Next week at harvest it will be an opportunity for us to give generously back to God in gratitude for all that we have received.
3. It is a parable about life; about lives that are growing in abundance and fullness.
If you think about it, a little seed is quite a miracle. Seeds are little capsules of life They contain the whole pattern of the future tree or plant within in them. All you need is a little bit of water, a little bit like instant coffee, and life emerges from the seed. And in God’s scheme of things, one seed does not simply produce another single seed. One seed produces 50 or a hundred more.
At Harvest, as we celebrate the abundance of the natural world that God has given us, little seeds producing a crop 30, 60 or 100 fold, so we are reminded that God has sown the seeds of life into each of us!
God has made us for abundance, to produce a harvest of fruit. But plants and trees do not live just for themselves. The fruit that grow from a plant or a tree feeds and sustains others in their abundance.
At Harvest, as we celebrate the abundance and fruitfulness of the earth, it is an opportunity to ask of ourselves: What fruit am I bearing in my life. What is the abundance of my life and how is it being a blessing to others?
4. Abundance in life does not always come from walking the same old path in life.
Those seeds that fall on the well-word trodden path whither and die. It suggests that growth does not always happen on the well-trodden path. The farmer has to turn the soil to make it soft and ready for seeds to grow. Next week at harvest as we remember the hard work of the farmer preparing the soil, turning it and making it soft and ready, so it is a reminder that if we are to be fruitful in life the soil of our lives sometimes needs to be turned over, churned up a bit in order to make us soft and ready.
We don’t always like it when our lives are churned up, but an abundant harvest doesn’t always come from walking on the same old path in life.
The parable might be asking us “What are some of the well-trodden paths in your life that no longer bring you abundance and that no longer leave you feeling fruitful?” Maybe it is time to walk a new path and a different route? Maybe it is an opportunity for God to turn over and churn up the soil of your life in order for the seeds of God’s life and love within you to bring forth a new abundance in your life. Amen.