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March 3, 2015, 8:48 AM

Gaining Perspective


Matthew 13:1-9
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.9 Let anyone with ears[a] listen!”
 
Gaining Perspective
 
As we talked about on Ash Wednesday, our journey through Lent this year is a journey with the parables of Jesus. We were reminded on Wednesday afternoon and evening that parables are a unique art form designed to capture our imaginations. They are strikingly visual and reach into the ‘everyday’ to connect our ordinary lives with the sacred. Parables have layers of meaning, and contain twists and surprised to grab our attention. They require us to participate in the telling, to engage with them and chew on the many layers of meaning—to ponder, experience the mystery, be surprised. We have lost some of these rich aspects to parables because they have become so familiar. Our job this Lent is to experience them anew, with fresh ears and refreshed imaginations.
 
Now, having said all that, today we have a very familiar and beloved parable, ‘The Parable of the Sower.’ In two weeks we will encounter the most familiar of them all, ‘The Good Samaritan.’ Is there anything new to hear in this parable? Can we possibly be surprised here?
 
One strength of the parable as a teaching and learning tool is its use of everyday life; in this case-Farming. Even in this fishing village on the shores of Galilee’s lake, people knew about farming. Not all they ate came from the lake. Even today, through television shows and movies, we can picture the basics of first century farming practices in our minds. The field must be prepared—plowed to loosen the soil, rocks removed, grasses and weeds ripped up. Fertilizer is spread and turned into the soil to create as rich an environment as possible for the best possible yield. The soil is often turned and loosened one more time so that the conditions are optimal for a great harvest.  Only then is the precious seed brought out—either saved from last year’s harvest or purchased at the market—and carefully spread on the prepared ground.
 
With that image clearly before us, think about the behavior of the farmer in our story…anything but careful and planned sowing. This sower comes out and begins scattering seed everywhere—reckless and careless. There is even the sense in this parable that no preparations were taken at all. This farmers behavior is crazy, haphazard, extravagant. As we contemplate how this story speaks to God’s realm and our lives with God, who is this bizarre sower? God? Jesus? Us? As Jesus gives an interpretation of this parable a few verses later in Matthew, he alludes to the fact that the sower is most likely God—or perhaps himself—a reckless Creator tossing seeds every which way.
 
But this is only one perspective from which to ponder this narrative.
 
What if we called this ‘The Parable of the Seed?’ The parable does not come with a name, that is something we have added over the generations. What if we focus our attention on the seed for a moment—the hapless, helpless seed, and its interaction with the ground? What are seeds? Seeds are life, rich potential waiting to be awakened. They are mysterious. We don’t know exactly how these little hard kernels transform into plants, vines or trees, but with the energy and resources, that is what they do. With some water and light, these hard little vessels transform into beautiful, wondrous life. And now, in this parable, they are being flung everywhere. What do they represent in this story? Are the seeds the good news? Are they Jesus? Are they discipleship living? What do we gain from seeing the story from this perspective?
 
But there is another way to look at this parable.
 
What if we call this story ‘The Parable of the Soils?’ The soils are easy to imagine in this first parable of Jesus. We can easily visualize what happens to the precious seed when it falls upon the different parts of the earth: the hard path, the shallow gravel, among the weeds and thorns, and into the good soil. The soils are the receivers of these kernels of life, and Jesus tells the disciples in his explanation of the parable that these soils are the people. Let those who have ears, pay attention! Jesus is essentially asking, from this perspective, how it is with your soul? Will these seeds rich with potential bounce right off as God flings them your direction? Will they start out great but quickly dry up? How likely are they to be choked and wither away? Or, might they flourish with the rich God-life they contain?
 
This parable does still seek to surprise us, 2000 years later, with the seeming carelessness of the farmer, to tease us with the mystery of the seed, and to challenge us with the question of our soil, our soul, and to fill us with hope at the promise of the harvest—30, 60 100 fold!
 
May we carry this beautiful parable with us into the week to ponder, to gain perspective. May we chew on its layers of meaning, hear it again and again. May we dwell with it and experience it anew in our lives each day.
 
Let those who have ears, pay attention!

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