This reflection is based on the parable of the sower in Matthew.
This passage is a parable that many of us have heard before—the parable of the sower. A crowd has gathered around Jesus to hear what he has to say, so he gets into a boat and rows out just enough so that he has some space but still close enough that everyone can hear. And then he tells this story as paraphrased in Laughing Bird:
“Listen up! When it was time to plant the crops, a farmer broadcast the seeds widely across the farm. Some of the seeds fell on the tracks, and the birds made a meal of them in no time. Other seeds fell on ground where the topsoil was shallow and there was nothing but rock underneath. They sprouted quickly enough, but because they were unable to put down roots, they didn’t survive when the heat of the sun hit them. Other seeds fell where the weeds were out of control, and being unable to compete with the weeds, they were soon strangled to death. But there were other seeds that fell on good soil and went on to produce an excellent harvest: some reproducing themselves a hundred times over, and others at least sixty or thirty times over. Don’t miss what I’m saying: if you’ve got ears, use them!”
The story starts out with true enough wisdom. Crops that are planted on a path where the ground is packed won’t be hidden and birds will come and eat them. On rocky ground there’s no topsoil and nothing to take root into. Finally, the crops that grow in weeds don’t have space to grow and get choked out. Anyone who farms or gardens knows these basic principles.
If we imagine ourselves into the story, there are different places we can see ourselves. We might imagine ourselves as the farmer planting the crop. This farmer is enthusiastic in planting but somewhat oblivious to where the seeds are landing or what the seeds need in order to flourish. The method seems to be a wish that throwing enough seed onto the ground will result in something growing. If the seed is the good news of God’s love, are we paying attention to where it is spread or do we assume that if we spread enough something will grow. It seems somewhat haphazard and wasteful to spread God’s love where it won’t have a chance to grow or take root.
Perhaps we want a more intentional method of planting, one that follows a process and has neat rows. At least then we know that we have done everything we can to give the seeds an opportunity for a good start. We put our love into seeds that we think will grow and with what we think they need in order to grow well. And this is tempting. We like order. We like to know that our efforts will not be wasted and that there will be a return on our investment of time and energy.
But the parable tells us something else. Along with all the seeds that didn’t take root and didn’t have a chance to grow, there were seeds that fell on good soil. And with these seeds something amazing happened. Not only did they grow but the yields were incredible – 100 times, sixty times, thirty times. In the ancient world a return of four to five times would have been extraordinary — an impossible amount.
In planting God’s love extravagantly, wherever it falls we find amazing returns and amazing yields. Our attempt to plan and control the process might actually prevent the good news of God’s love from ending up where it needs to be.
We might also think of ourselves as the seeds: if we are sown on a well-used path, we might not be able to hear the message. If we get planted on the rocky ground, we won’t have enough root to hold us through difficult times. If we are the seeds that end up being among the weeds we won’t have enough room to grow. We don’t get to choose where we land. We start out in life in our families and communities. We don’t get to choose these as children. They are beyond our control. We are all born with the seed of God’s love within us but we don’t have control over the environment in which are born and grow up in. Sometimes, the seed of God’s love faces challenges in growth – no fault of our own but the circumstances of life.
And yet that growth is tenacious and the love God has for us is tenacious. But if we are the farmer, continuing to sow seeds of love, wouldn’t we want the seeds of love to go everywhere, regardless of circumstances, regardless of what we think will grow or not.
The challenge for us is to think of ourselves as both the seeds which benefit from God taking a chance on us and planting us with love but also that we have the ability to be the farmer, sharing an extravagant love and spreading it everywhere.