The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
E. Bevan Stanley
July 12, 2020
Proper 10, Year A
Jesus said, “Listen! A sower went out to sow.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
The Gospel reading has two parts. There is the parable about the sowers and then the explanation.
If you look at the parable without the explanation, the seed that is being sown could be anything—knowledge, good luck, blessings, love. It could be anything that has the potential for growth and reproduction. The parable then goes on to say there are four kinds of soil into which the seed can fall:
It can fall on the path, where the passage of many feet has compacted the earth so that it is hard and the seed just lies on top where the birds can eat it before it has a chance to germinate.
It can fall on rocky ground, where it can germinate and sprout, but without good roots, the first dry spell kills it off.
It can fall on ground that is good soil, but the goutweed and raspberries crowd the new plants out.
Or it can fall and good clean soil where it flourishes.
The different soils are different kinds of souls, of personalities, or people. Different kinds of hearts. The implicit question is what kind of a heart do you and I have? What kind of soil are we?
Have you been walked on by the events of your life so that you have become hard and nothing can penetrate you? Do you grab on to the next new thing, but have trouble sticking with it long enough for it to produce any fruit? Do have so many things going on in your life that there is no room for a new idea, a new feeling, a new word?
Or are you cleared of other plants, hoed and tilled and soft, ready to receive the seed?
The parable is spoken to the crowds. The explanation is only given to the disciples.
What does that suggest? It might mean that only those who are already following Jesus and trying to emulate him, who remain in his presence, who cultivate their relationship with him can really understand what he is saying. Enlightenment is the result of commitment, not the other way around.
In the explanation, Jesus explicitly says that the seed is the “word of the kingdom.” He is also more explicit about the ways that good seed can be lost. On the beaten path, the “evil one” can snatch the word away before it has a chance to do anything. On the rocky soil, persecution can kill off any excitement about the kingdom. In the thorny ground the cares of the world and the lure of wealth can crowd out the new plants.
So, one question the text poses to us today we have already noted: What kind of soil am I. The second is am I one of the crowd or one of the disciples? Have I made a decision to follow Jesus and model my life after his example and instruction? Do I want to bear fruit?
And what do I imagine that fruit to be? Third, to which of these difficulties or hindrances am I most susceptible?
As we live with the twin challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the new awareness of systemic racism in our country, what is it that will hinder our participation in solutions and health? Are we like the hard dirt of the path so that we no longer care about how many people suffer or die from this disease? Are we resistant to hear about the ravages of white supremacy and the injustice in our American institutions and government?
Are we at first enthusiastic about self-isolation and mask wearing in order to get this pandemic over, but then as the months go by, we become more willing to take risks and put others at risk? Are we inspired to work for justice and racial healing until we find friends and relatives who find our enthusiasms either excessive or stupid? Do we set out to do all the right things to help reduce the spread of the disease and start emailing our congressmen about police reform, and then get overwhelmed by the size of the problem and our need to work, to care for family, to get exercise, to do all the other things on our lists? What kind of soil are we?
And in this time of anxiety and division it is easy to feel that those who disagree with us are not only wrong, but stupid or wicked. More than ever it is easier for our hearts to be hard like the path. Here is a poem about that:
The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
The good news is that this anxiety about disease and the turmoil about racism both can tools in the hand of our divine gardener to break up our packed earth, rake out the stones, and pull up the thorns, so that our hearts can receptive to the words, the blessings, and the love of God which is broadcast so liberally upon our lives. May we be good soil, well manured, moist, well drained, kissed by the sun and ready to receive the seed. Ready to bear a rich harvest.