As you know this month we are exploring the theme of rootedness and the story about the Sower in the New Testament comes to my mind. The scene opens with Jesus sitting in a house and his disciples say, “Hey Jesus” your mom and brothers are outside.” Jesus responds loud enough so that presumably his mom and brothers can hear, “Whose my brother, whose my mother?” and he points to his disciples and says here are my mother and brothers.” He walks out of the house out onto the beach and spreads his arms to the sky to include everyone there. It got so crowded he gets into a boat. This is what he tells the multitudes while standing in the boat:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Many questions come to mind. You may be asking why would a farmer sprinkle seeds on the path, and the rocks and the thorns, seems like a waste of seed right? Well in Palestine, back then and still today, farmers seed first then till the soil. Jesus is using the act of sowing, something most people did back then and knew how to do, to describe something harder to understand. Something he dedicated his short life to teaching about, “the kingdom of heaven.” He did this by telling stories called a parable. Para in Greek means “along side of” and bole means to “lay down, lay down along side of.” Back then the kingdom of heaven was just as much as a mystery as it is today. Jesus is hoping we will hear clues about the kingdom of heaven in his story about the sower.
Lets start with the seed, what is a seed? (Ask for ideas- new life, potential, a way of transmission) If you look at the Greek meaning, which is the original language the New Testament, seed means sperm, child, and next generation. And the Greek word for sow, Speiro, means in Latin “I hope.” Draw a seed in your mind, picture a husk, and inside, the endosperm, a small pod of energy, waiting for the right conditions to be activated. What does this pod of energy need Light, good soil, sun, water. Everything is the right proportion too. And what makes good soil? The right mixes of carbon and nitrogen, and water and air. I think of the compost drums I see in people’s yards, and what comes to my mind is darkness and decomposition. Soil needs a right balance of air and water, darkness. But what else does both the seed and the soil need? Time. Time for the seed to meet the right conditions so that it becomes active and breaks through first the husk and then the ground. The soil needs to become fertile, for the worms and all the other littler critters to break down the leaves, and twigs into nitrogen.
Kathy Mattea, sings how we are all just seeds in God’s hands, we start the same, but where we land, is sometimes fertile soil and sometime sand. If we are the seeds in God’s hands, if we embody God’s word, if we are literally God’s hands, what does Jesus’ parable teach us about the kingdom of heaven? First, Jesus talks different kinds of soil. What clue could Jesus be telling us about the kingdom when he talks about sowing the path? This is the days before paving, when paths were public ways, like roads, well traveled and visible. In the story, the seed on the path gets eaten by birds, never gets a chance to germinate or grow roots. What comes to your mind when you think of paths in your life? Doing what is expected of you, going along with the crowd? Becoming quickly immersed in a situation, attached to a destination, or an outcome? On the path, the seeds have no time to grow.
Then Jesus talks about the rocks, where the seeds shoot up quickly and then die. This for me is the hardest part of the parable, for the seeds seem to get the nutrients they need, but only for a short time. The roots come to a hard place, no nutrients to sustain them, and the sun scorches them. What could Jesus be saying here? What happens when you hit a hard place in your life, and feel little hope? How do you keep from becoming cynical, or filled with despair? What faith sustains you?Next, he talks about sowing in the thorns, thorns stronger than the seeds, stunting their growth. What stunts growth? Anger sometimes, when it goes on for too long. Lack of education, housing or food to eat can stunt growth too. Jesus lived in a time when people paid taxes with food and didn’t have enough to get them through the year. Greed stunts lives.
Lastly, he talks about the good soil, the soil that reaps a harvest. What makes the soil able to reap a harvest, 30, 60, 100 times what is sown? “Who ever has ears” he said, “let them hear.” What could he mean by this?Jesus’s disciples are confused by the parable. They walk out to the boat and ask, why do you speak to us in parables? And he replies “to you the secret of the Kingdom has been given, blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.He looks at the multitudes standing on the shore as says, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”In other words the clues to the kingdom come to you when you hear and see differently. When what you see and hear changes your intention.
Let me give you an example,
I was in Portland Oregon for the General Assembly. I was on my way to the famous rose garden and had just entered the 500-acre park located on the highest hill of the city. I was alone, standing in the dark shade of the holocaust memorial, which is a huge black wall of a rock, when a homeless man and another man who could have been his young adult son approached me dressed in rags and carrying bags that spoke of weary feet and uncertainty. No one was around and my sense of alarm began to tighten my muscles and my feet wanted to run. But I paused, and as I met the older man’s gaze I heard a different voice, “stay”, and I became rooted. I saw the life that danced in his moist eyes, read like Braille the deep creases of his face, and absorbed like a dry sponge what he was beginning to tell me, the lost social security check, and the miles he walked to get a new one. We talked, and he paused, and in the silence, the younger man and I shared a look that said “you just got to love him” About thirty minutes later, I finally figured out the right path to the rose garden, and there among a sea of strangers and roses of every color, was his kind face. “You made it,” he said with a nod. I felt grounded the rest of the day.
Rabbi Heschel says, life doesn’t grow away from us, but is planted within us in those moments we desensitize ourselves to the external world, and listen for words that can only be heard in the silence within, and see truths that can only be seen in the darkness within. Words that turns us away from fears, and away systems of greed and oppression and turn us towards relationships, new beginnings, our authentic selves. From these moments, says Heschel, heaven, or the life of the world to come, takes root, and we are nourished and sustained, thirty times, sixty times and even hundred times what we sowed. What Jesus is saying when he tell his disciples that the secret is given to you, and not to them is that the secret is not learned in school or on the public way, but is unique and discovered within in each of us. Emily Dickinson wrote, tell the truth, and tell it slant. That’s what Jesus says about the Kingdom of heaven. Each of us are given the word, each of us a seed that bears fruit only in the goodness that comes with intention and newly sown reciprocity.
For much of our lives we stand among the multitudes with eyes that do not see, and ears that do not hear. Times when cynicism, despair and greed keeps us from thriving. And then we are given a moment when something shifts within, and we bring a new intention to our lives, a fuller deeper presence. Then we are the seeds in Gods hands. There is no guarantee these moments will come, Jesus even suggests for some they may not, and that is hard to take in. As long as there is greed in the world, some will wither, as long as people feel alone, despair will prevail. The Kingdom of heaven is like a sower, a life full of hard work and hope for the harvest, even from the rockiest ground. The Kingdom of heaven is like the soil, depleted by hardship, and enriched by faith and goodness. The Kingdom of heaven is like a seed, life producing with time and the right conditions. From such seeds, seemingly insignificant in their beginning, and invisible sometimes to the human eye, comes the Kingdom, unfolding now, embracing the entire world.
Do you have ears to hear? Eyes to see?
In closing Fredrick Buechner
If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; The Kingdom of Heaven is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us on behalf of another that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of heaven is where we belong. It is home.