Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
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.”
Our two-year old son, Elliot, has reached that stage where he is really starting to understand words that are being said around him. And while this is an exciting time, it is also a little nerve-wracking, because you find yourself worrying that he is just going to be a big blabber mouth, repeating certain words and phrases that he hears at home.
So Lauren and I have found ourselves coding our language. Spelling out words or giving nicknames to people that we know Elliot won’t catch on to. Now, this isn’t entirely new for Lauren and I. Much like many close relationships, you start to develop sort of a language of your own. A way to communicate with each other when others are around, but so that no one else will understand. A certain look, or a gesture. A wink. For example, Lauren and I have a coded signal for whenever we are in a conversation or a situation that we just need to get out of. It’s a cue that says, “It’s time to leave.” Now, I know, I know, some of you are wondering what that cue is, but I’m not going to tell you just incase I have to use when I’m talking to you someday. We also have a signal that means, “Hey, remind me to tell you something later, but I can’t tell you right now.”
It’s a coded language. So that only some will understand. And in our gospel text for today, Jesus is speaking in a coded kind of language. Why? Well, so that only some of them will understand. You see, this is right around the time of Jesus ministry when not every one is very fond of him.
Throughout the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is talking about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven, Kingdom of God, down to earth. As I’ve said before, so often we’ve been told that the goal of Christianity is to get into heaven. But for Jesus, the goal is to bring heaven to earth. We pray this every week in the Lord’s Prayer – thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. We pray that God’s kingdom would come here! And the problem is that if God’s kingdom is going to come here, then it is going to threaten the current kingdom. In Jesus’ day that meant Kingdom of the Roman Empire.
So the ways of Jesus were a threat to the status quo. Jesus was rocking the boat so to speak and many people didn’t like it. So when Jesus comes to speak to the large crowd of people, he’s speaks to them in a coded language called parables. So that some understand and others do not. Because who knows who is in the crowd – spies from the Roman Empire, other religious authorities trying to shut him up , people trying to catch him breaking the law so as to arrest him.
In this coded speech, Jesus will be giving the crowd a picture of the kingdom of heaven and what it looks like, so that they too might be partners with God in bringing heaven to earth. Over and over again, Jesus will begin his parables with, “The kingdom of heaven is like….” And today, we hear his first parable – what many of us know as the parable of the sower.
A farmer goes out to sow the seed, scattering it all around. Some of it falls on the hard ground, and is immediately snatched away by the birds. Some of it falls on the gravelly ground, full of so much rock and so little soil. It grows up but quickly dies from lack of nourishment. Some of the seeds fell in the thorny, briar bush. They took root but didn’t last long, as the viney thorns wrapped themselves around them and strangled out any hope of a crop. And finally, some of it fell on good soil. And this time, it grew.
This is Jesus’ coded parable for the large crowd about the kingdom of heaven that has come near. And we wonder what it means.
Sometimes this parable can frighten us. Because if, as the text says, the seed is the word of God, the promises of God that are being planted all around, we can’t help but wonder what kind of soil we are. And are we receiving and producing enough good fruit from the word of God that is planted in us. Are we that hard, rocky, and thorny soil where nothing will grow or are we good soil? How could we become that well-tilled, well-weeded, well-fertilized soil? Or we get overly confident, thinking that we already are that good soil, and that those people over there are the bad soil, where nothing good comes from. In fact, Jesus even makes it easy on us telling us what kind of people fit with what kind of soil. The hard soil people are those who hear the word of God, but couldn’t really care less. You know, they’ve been to church a time or two, but they have better things to do. The rocky soil person, where the seed blossoms but has no roots, that the person who gets really into Jesus and really joyful about it for about a month or two and then…well. Or the soil with thorns that choke the crop, that’s the person who hears the word of God, but gets a little distracted by worldly things – like money and power and prestige.
I mean, we all know people like this, right? And who knows, maybe we are some of those people. And we could make a list of who is who, right? And then the message would be to go and be good soil so that the word of God can take root in you. And then all of us would leave either arrogantly thinking we got it all together and already are good soil or thinking that we aren’t good enough, worthy enough, and so we go home and try and try to be better, only to find that it is harder than you thought and likely never believing that we actually are good enough.
I could preach that sermon. But I don’t want to. Because I don’t think it is true to the text. Because in vs. 18, Jesus calls it the parable of the sower. Not the parable of the different types of soil. It’s not about you. And whether you are good enough for the promises of God. It’s about the sower. This is the parable of the sower.
And the first thing that is worth noting is that this farmer is a really bad farmer. Think about 75% of his crop did not grow that year. And all because he was wasteful and careless about where he was planting those seeds. When all the other farmers are gathered together in the garage, having a cold one, after a long night of planting, this is the farmer that everyone’s laughing about. This bizarre and foolish farmer who has rigged his planters to just throw the corn and bean seed every which way, part of it landing on the paved highway, some it in the ditch, some it in the thick woods, and some of it, believe it or not, where it belongs…in the field.
This is the parable of the sower. And to us, this is pretty foolish and wasteful farmer. But you know, Jesus isn’t teaching about the kingdom of good sense or the kingdom of good business or the kingdom of “don’t-be-an-idiot-throwing-and-wasting-all-of-that-seed.” No, this is the kingdom of God. And to Jesus, this really bad farmer is what God is like. And thank God for that. Because if we are the soil, but God is the sower, and this parable is more about God than it is about us, then what we learn is that God the sower doesn’t distinguish between good soil and bad soil. God just scatters seeds of grace all over the place. Over all of us. It’s a wasteful and foolish scattering, with seeds of grace landing in places and on people that we might declare worthless. But just because we’ve given up on them, doesn’t mean that God has. God just continues to walk alongside us, scattering grace upon grace upon grace, trusting that we are worth the investment, no matter what comes of it.
And what happens in just a couple of minutes is a reflection of this foolish God who just throws grace everywhere. When God baptizes, it is just like throwing grace around wildly. We don’t know what Adrian will become. We don’t know what kind of soil he will be. We don’t know what kind of life he will lead. But that doesn’t matter. God just throws grace on him in the form of water before all of that. And it is that proclamation that, it doesn’t matter what kind of soil you are. God will never stop throwing seeds of grace at you.
In closing, like much coded language, there is one more layer of meaning here. If we look closely, Jesus shifts the metaphor. We may be the soil. But, in the end, we are also the seed. And so just as God scatters seeds of grace over all of us, God also scatters us to be seeds of grace. And the hard truth about life is that sometimes we will lands in places where the grace we offer from God is not well received. But the good news is that the kingdom of God is here folks. Here. It is the ground beneath your feet. God is throwing us out into it like a handful of seed, and who knows where you are going to end up, who knows who you will encounter. But the good news is that you come from the hand of God. And that is something that no one can snatch away. Thanks be to God. Amen.