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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 07/12/2020

Whenever the lectionary omits verses from a text, as is the case in today’s gospel, it can be interesting to look at what was cut out and ask yourself why? Today we get Jesus telling the Parable of the Sower in the first 9 verses and the explanation of the parable in verses 18-23, but verses 10 to 17 are omitted, verses that have the disciples asking Jesus why he speaks in parables.

You know that parables are pretty much Jesus’ favorite way of teaching, but by nature parables are ambiguous and open to interpretation. Because of that, the disciples wonder why Jesus doesn’t just come out and say what he means. His response: “The reason I speak to them in parables is that seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” At which point you want the disciples to say, “Well, that clears things up.” Jesus follows with an equally vague quote from the prophet Isaiah and then says, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”

I would assume then that the reason these verses are omitted is because they’re not very helpful in providing any clarification. Jesus must have known what he was talking about but I don’t think anyone else did. So our text today moves on to the explanation of the parable but the thinking is that it’s probably not Jesus’ explanation but the explanation of the early church because those who told parables didn’t explain them; parables were intended to make you think and draw your own conclusions. What Matthew and the early church perhaps knew though is that some people aren’t very good at thinking so they decided to help them out, hence the explanation. Kathy and I do the same kind of thing with movies sometimes; we’ll watch one and then afterwards look it up on the internet to see what the critics say so we know what we’re supposed to think of it. That’s easier than thinking for yourself.

Today is the first week of three weeks of parables and, according to the biblical critics, this Parable of the Sower is an important one and if they say it’s important, it must be. It is complicated though. It’s most commonly known as the Parable of the Sower, but the explanation that’s offered is mostly about the soil. So, should it be the Parable of the Soil? But then what about the seed that is sown? That could be a focus too, or the harvest, that’s another possibility. There are a number of different angles but again, that’s the nature of a parable.

Probably the best place to start is with what the Bible gives us. Whether or not the explanation comes from Jesus himself doesn’t really matter; it is a good interpretation and my guess would be that it probably does come from the early church reflecting what was happening at the time. I know that it reflects what happens in our time as different people respond in different ways upon hearing the word; some come to faith and grow in that faith, some don’t.

The message of the parable though seems to be that you want to be that good soil that bears fruit and yields a hundred-fold, sixty-fold or thirty-fold, all of which, by the way, are outrageously large amounts. You don’t want to be part of the path that gets trampled on so that the seed that falls on it gets snatched away. You don’t want to be rocky soil where the seed of faith doesn’t really take hold; you don’t want to be thorny soil where the seed of faith gets choked off by other competing influences.

Can you choose what kind of soil you are though? To put it another way, is faith a choice or a gift? According to Martin Luther it’s closer to the latter: “By my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.” That’s part of his explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, an explanation that makes faith a gift of the Holy Spirit. According to the parable, it sounds like it’s a gift that we receive or we don’t, depending on which kind of soil we are.

For me that smacks a little too much of predestination, you are what you are, part of the path or rocky or thorny or good soil, and you can’t do anything about it. I would suggest however, that the quality of our soil is more variable than that and…that we can do something about it. None of us is good soil all the time; rocks and thorns do have a way of becoming a part of things. But, by prayerfully considering what those rocks and thorns look like in our life, even if we can’t totally eliminate them, trusting in God’s help and presence, we can at least improve the quality of our soil making it better able to yield a harvest.

Faith is still the work of the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit can find its way in even the rockiest, thorniest soil, the Spirit does move in mysterious ways; but there are still things we can do to make the work of the Spirit easier. There are faith practices we can engage in, practices like prayer and Bible study and worship that enable us to more clearly experience God’s presence and allow the Holy Spirit to produce faith in us as we hear the word and as we receive it through the sacraments. Unlike the soil, we are not just passive recipients of what the sower offers; there are things we can do.

With the inclusion of the explanation, this Parable of the Sower does become the Parable of the Soils. What I wonder though, is whether we would hear it differently if we didn’t know the explanation, if we could erase it from our mind. It’s hard to do. It’s like in a courtroom when one lawyer objects to something the other lawyer said, the judge upholds the objection and the jury is told to ignore the previous question or testimony. My thought is that it’s too late; it’s already out there; the seed is planted as it were.

Anyway, without the explanation, might the focus be more on the sower? The image you have is that of a farmer throwing seeds around, I believe the technique is called broadcasting, without any consideration of where he is throwing it. Now, as is the case with any story, you want a hook that gets the attention of your audience and for anyone in Jesus’ audience who knew anything about farming, he would have their attention because this is bad farming technique. It’s wasteful because by just throwing it anywhere, it’s a given that a lot of the seed is not going to produce anything of value.

There’s a couple of possibilities here: in previous chapters when Jesus commissioned the disciples there was caution about how successful they might expect to be. This could be a continuation of the caution that failure might be a part of things. Another possibility though is that Jesus is saying that unlike a farmer who would make some kind of analysis of the soil before he or she started throwing seeds, for sowers of the word the quality of the soil doesn’t matter. In whatever ways we can, and it’s not the same for you as it is for me, in whatever ways we can we are called to proclaim and live hope and acceptance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ by grace alone and that’s it. It’s not for us to worry about how receptive someone might be to what we proclaim. It’s not for us to worry about the harvest. That’s the hard part though; we do worry about the harvest; we do worry about the numbers. The parable promises that the harvest will be abundant, but a lot of the time, we don’t see that abundance.

I don’t think it’s just pastors who get discouraged by confirmation kids who drift away, families that are all gung-ho for a while and then disappear, doing baptisms and weddings for people you never see again, things like that. Then, some well-meaning person will say, “Yes, but you don’t know what seeds you’ve planted,” and I want to smack ‘em, because I feel like I do know.

What those well-meaning people are doing though, is offering a reminder of this parable. It’s a reminder that as sowers of the word, we model the God we proclaim, a God whose grace extends to all people regardless of what kind of soil they might be. It’s a God who doesn’t give up but keeps spreading seeds of grace because you never know when one might take hold and produce a harvest of faith.

Many years ago, I was hiking in Denali National Park in Alaska in an area of what I think is called moraine, rocky, gravelly deposits left by retreating glaciers. It was a place where it looked like nothing could possibly grow, very barren, but at one point I looked down and there was this one little flower peeking up through the gravel. I took a picture of it, a picture that I must still have somewhere.

At the time, I’m pretty sure it didn’t bring to mind the Parable of the Sower, but, it is a reminder that, as those well-meaning people who irritate me say, you never know what seeds you’ve planted and…you never know when and where they might sprout.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
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