In today’s gospel from Matthew 13, 1-23, Jesus offers a parable that interprets the mounting opposition he faces from many sides early in his ministry. For one thing, people in Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum–cites and towns along the Sea of Galilee that received him warmly for his miracles and his teaching– begin to turn away from him. (Matthew 11,16-24)) The Pharisees and scribes, the Jewish religious leaders, accuse him of breaking Jewish laws and being possessed by the devil. (Matthew 12,22-34) Some of his own family from Nazareth come to take him home because they think he’d out of his mind. (Matthew 12, 46-50) Finally, his own disciples don’t seem to understand him.
What explains the desertion, opposition, lack of understanding towards him and his ministry that began with great acclaim?
The parable of the seed and the sower is Jesus‘ answer to what he faced, but also what the Word of God faces continually from humanity. God’s Word is received by the human heart like seed received in the ground.
The seed is life-giving, but if it falls on rocky ground it’s eaten right away by the birds of the air. If it falls on thin soil it fails after awhile because it has no roots; if it falls among thorns and weeds they choke it. But if it falls on good ground the seed produces fruit beyond anything you expect.
The parable first applies to the world Jesus faced, but it’s also a picture of how humanity in every age receives the Word of God. Our hearts can be hard, fickle, vain, proud, unheeding, but we can also accomplish great deeds. The seed’s not at fault, it’s the ground it falls on.
Still, the sower never stops sowing seed. life-giving seed. That’s also important to remember. God never withholds his grace.
In a poem called “Putting in the Seed” Robert Frost describes a farmer’s love affair with the earth. It’s spring and getting dark, yet the farmer keeps working his field. Someone from the house goes to fetch him home. Supper’s on the table, yet he’s a
“ Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.”
Is Frost’s farmer zestfully casting seed on the waiting earth an image of God, the Sower, casting saving grace onto the world, in season and out, because he loves it so ?
Jesus’ parable of the seed and the sower seems to suggest it. The land surrounding the Sea of Galilee where Jesus ministered is still a fruitful land where crops grow in abundance, as they did in his time. It’s a blessed place. In a place like that, the sower scatters his seed confidently, not afraid where it goes: on rocky ground, or amid thorns, or on the soil that gives a good return. Because of his love and trust of the land, the sower keeps sowing.
Can we say that God the Sower sows blessed seed, no matter how badly our human world appears, or how badly it receives? Like the seasons that bring snow and rain, grace is never withheld. God, who loves it so, blesses the earth and all of us.
The sower still sows; the snow and rain still fall. That brings us hope.