Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Sower

On the way to work the past two days I've been ruminating on the parable of the sower. It's open to a remarkable number of interpretations, and I'm pretty sure a lot of them are good interpretations, possibly even intended. I suppose that's one of the beauties of the parables.

As a Lutheran, I naturally started from the recognition that I'm not one of the soils, I'm all of them. I'm constantly showered by the grace of God's Word, but it has different results at different times. There are times when the word hits me and bounces off without effect. There are times when I receive the word with joy but it takes no root. There are times when the word starts to take root, but it is choked out by the pleasures and cares of the world. And there are times when the word takes root and bears fruit. This isn't a terribly original interpretation, but it's a good starting point for reflection.

One of the things that I thought about is that possibly this state of things is normal. That is, maybe it's because God knows I'm going to be like this that God scatters the seed so generously. I could set about looking for the paths and the rocky ground and the thorns in my life and try to get rid of them, but the sower in the parable doesn't do that. He just sows, and he gets a good crop.

At the same time, there are things I can do. For instance, consider the seed sown among thorns. It starts to grow. Suppose I find that a word of God I have received is starting to take root. If I leave it, it might be choked by thorns. But if I watch it and care for it, I can nuture it and help it bear fruit. I can take the plant from among the throns and carefully replant it in good soil.

That is, there are times when I hear something and it strikes a chord with me, or I understand it in a new way. If I let it go, nothing more will come of it. But if I keep it in mind ("hold it fast in an honest and good heart", in Luke's version of the parable), it grows and, hopefully, will bear fruit in my life.

As I continued to think about the parable, I thought the field isn't me -- the field is the world and the parable is about the world. Individualism is so ingrained in our culture that it's hard to even think about this parable apart from how it impacts individuals. The natural tendency is to look at one person and ask, what does the parable say about this person (usually "me")? But what does it mean if it's a parable about the world? It seems to me that in that case, its message is essentially the same as the parable of the woman baking bread. God scatters the seed freely, indiscriminantly, prodigally throughout the world. Sometimes nothing good happens but sometimes it does and when it does the results are wonderful. Just as the leaven leavens the whole loaf, the good soil produces enough crop for the whole field.


Tom in Ontario said...

For a long time I read and heard that parable and thought only about the soil. I think that might be the most common interpretation. That's what the song "Lord, Let My Heart Be Good Soil" by Handt Hanson does:

Lord, let my heart be good soil,
open to the seed of your word.
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
where love can grow and peace is understood.
When my heart is hard, break the stone away.
When my heart is cold, warm it with the day.
When my heart is lost, lead me on your way.
Lord, let my heart, Lord, let my heart, Lord, let my heart be good soil.

But I heard a sermon about 15 years ago that said almost nothing about the soil. It was all about the sower. Not a very efficient sower. A lot of the seed is wasted on poor soil. But the sower keeps throwing the seed around with such abandon, not ignoring any of the soil, good or bad.

Since I heard that sermon I only hear the parable as a word of amazing radical grace. That the sower doesn't really care what kind of soil I, or anyone else, might be at any given time. S/he just keeps on sowing, wanting us all to have the seed.

Andy said...

You can definitely read it as a parable of radical grace. I lean that way myself, but then what do you do about the quotation from Isaiah which is paired with this parable?