The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 10A (7/13/2008)
Sowing Seeds; Sharing Faith
Lessons: Isaiah 55:10-13 Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13 Romans 8:1-11 St. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm Genesis 25:19-34 Psalm 119:105-112
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word. By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy, live according to it, and grow in faith and hope and love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
13.1 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 listen!"
18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
St. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
What a waste of good seed! Who is this Sower, who so indiscriminately throws these seeds? Some seeds end up on the path. Some seeds end up in rocky ground. Some seeds end up among thorns. Oh yeah, and there are also a few seeds that actually end up in good soil… Who is this Sower, so careless with these seeds? What a waste!
These days, a Sower like that would never make it. Farming is a much more competitive business now, and planting techniques are much more sophisticated. A farmer in Iowa has his combine hooked up to a laptop computer, and communicating with GPS satellites, to tell him the exact yield of every square foot of his field. In the following season, he’ll adjust his planting and fertilizing strategies to increase the yield in every section of the field.
The contrasts between the simple methods of a first century sower and the technological wizardry of today’s farmer are remarkable – but not the point of this parable. Neither, for that matter, is this parable an invitation for preachers to exhort their listeners to become richer, more productive soil (as if the Sower could have convinced the ground to be less hard, or less thorny…).
No, Jesus told this parable to answer one simple question: “Why isn’t it working?” By Mark’s thirteenth chapter, it is becoming apparent that not everybody is enamored with the teaching and ministry of the Rabbi from Nazareth. Chapters 11 and 12 make it painfully clear that many are choosing to have nothing to do with Jesus. King Herod imprisons John, and Jesus’ primary promoter voices his doubts (11.2). The people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum are unimpressed with his preaching (11.20). The Pharisees challenge his ministry, and begin planning how to destroy him (12.14). They accuse Jesus of being in league with the devil (12.24).
What does all of this mean? Why are so many set against him? Why are the strength of his signs and the brilliance of his teaching unable to win them over? With this parable, Jesus offers the simple explanation that there are powers in this world which work against the will of God. The evil one is real, and has the ability to snatch believers away from true faith. Trouble and persecution can lead to disillusionment and dismay. “The cares of the world and the lure of wealth” can leave no room in a believer’s heart for the word of God.
Yet (and this is important!) the word of God is still, in certain instances, able to overcome all the odds, and faith grows: thirty-fold, sixty-fold, one-hundred-fold.
When we study texts like this one, we find ourselves wondering, with the listeners to Peter’s Pentecost Sermon (Acts 2:37), “What then shall we do?” At the very least, we believers are called to continue working with God to sow seeds of faith, regardless the result. We may not come up with tidy formulas about when and where God’s word is most likely to take hold, but we know that it happens. And so we persevere, even in the face of failure and disappointment.
And if we are concerned for our own faithful well-being, we would do well to keep at arm’s distance “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.” They, above all other distractions, are mentioned by Jesus in this passage. We would do well to go back and meditate on the Sermon on the Mount (6:25-34), and pray for the faith and strength to trust in God’s word.
There is an epic struggle taking place for our souls, yet we who are people of faith continue to live in hope. Thanks be to God, whose Spirit empowers our faith and our faithfulness!
David J. Risendal
Exploring This Week's Gospel:
1. What disappointed the disciples about how people did (or didn’t) respond to Jesus? 2. What forces does Jesus mention, that work against the power of faith? 3. What word of hope is found in this passage?
Connecting with This Week's Gospel:
1. When have I evaluated a situation and determined that “it just isn’t worth it” to share my faith? 2. In what situation, or with what person, will I pledge to share my faith in the coming week (trusting that God makes all things possible…)? 3. What, in my life, works against what God is trying to make possible in me and through me?