6 Pentecost • July 12, 2020
Genesis 25:19-34 • Psalm 119:105-112 • Romans 8:1-11 • Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
In the Name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus leaves the house where he was staying and a crowd gathers to hear this man who is gaining a reputation as an engaging speaker. The crowd surrounds him, too many for him to be heard on the fringes. So he gets into a boat and pushes our a little from the shore. You may remember how loud it was in the swimming pools when we were little. Sound carries very well across water. So Jesus sat in the boat (teachers always sat in those days) and told a story or two.
We like entertainment! We like a good story. There was no television then, no radio, no books, no newspapers, even. There were community storytellers, of course, and wandering preachers who, like the tent revivalists in the American experience, came for a couple of days to hold a revival and then left. Jesus was like that, and he capitalized on people’s hunger for entertainment. He told stories.
We remember stories, and we can repeat them. They stick with us so that we can chew on them to extract whatever meaning we can find. He was speaking to country folk, farmers and men in the trades, housewives and parents. They knew what a sower is: the farmer who takes a basket of seed into a plowed field and flings them across the furrows—broadcasts the seeds in the time-honored method of planting grain.
But all soil is not the same, and some fell on the path which was hard pavement, trodden down by human and animal feet. And the birds saw the seeds lying helplessly exposed and ate them up. Other seeds survived to sprout, but had no deep roots since they were on rocky ground. The sun shriveled them up and killed them before they had a chance to produce grain. Others were choked by weeds, which steal all the moisture from the soil and cover them so no sun reaches them, and they die.
But some seeds fell on good soil and produced many times their number. Here is the miracle of farming. One grain, if it gains roots and is watered sufficiently, and has enough sunlight—one grain of wheat can multiply prodigiously. Just out of curiosity, I googled the question: “How much wheat will one seed produce?” The response was, “On average, there are 22 seeds per head and 5 heads per plant … 110 seeds per plant.” Just as Jesus said, a hundredfold at best, and others less.
He may have gone on to explain the meaning of the story. but not necessarily. In Mark’s Gospel, for example, he just lets the story germinate on its own in the minds of his audience, explaining it later to his close disciples. But good teachers have different methods for different times and this may have been one for parsing the story, for taking it apart to see the meaning. “Guided inquiry,” this is called.
The story is about the word of the kingdom. Some hear it and, because it is not easily heard, dismiss it—not out of disrespect, but just because they were distracted by what Jesus calls “the evil one.” In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “deliver us from evil.” But the original text says, “deliver us from the evil one.” The evil one is those distractions that divert our attention and keep us from learning about the kingdom.
Others actually get the meaning of the word of the kingdom, even become enthusiastic about it, but after a while, when it gets costly or troublesome, they forget. They are those whose rocky soil did not allow deep roots to grow—enthusiasm soon fades.
Similarly, seeds sown among the thorns are choked—in human terms, being harassed by cares and trouble, or hearing the siren song of great wealth, the word of the kingdom gets lost in the thicket of worldly concerns.
But some seeds hit the ground for which they were intended, the good soil, well-watered and sun-warmed, and they produced many fold.
Notice that Jesus is not trying to get us to improve ourselves. He is not encouraging us to be anything other than what we already are. He does, however, want us to wake up and seen the reality. “Listen!” he says. Pay attention! See the reality of how the good news that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” gets lost with some people, and others are enthusiastic until it gets hard, and some are a blessing to many.
We in America live with the principle that all people are created equal, and there is some truth to this great American maxim. Yet it is also the case that vast inequalities occur among us. Some are huge contributors to society, and others are a drain on our common wellbeing. That’s just the way it is; that’s just the truth of it
The power of seeing clearly, however, is what Jesus is depending on. When he teaches, he shows us truth, reality as it actually is. Why? Because the truth allows for transformation. The truth alters us, all by itself, shifts us without our having to do anything. We do not have to fix ourselves once we see the truth of ourselves and the world around us. The power of the truth does the heavy lifting; seeing the truth turns us into the heavenly beings we were created to be.