Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 13:1-23) transports me to a Master Gardening class in lakeside Palestine circa 30 AD. The practice of farming back in the day may seem quite strange to modern farmers or hobby gardeners. Seed must have been plentiful back then, because the farmer in Jesus’ tale takes out his broadcaster and starts strewing seeds all over the creation, with some falling beside the path, some in the rocks, some in the brier patch, with some actually finding their way into some fertile topsoil. As you might expect, most of the seed doesn’t do well; it’s snatched up or dies from thirst or gets choked. But the seed on fertile soil turns out to be an original miracle-grow variety. A bumper crop would have been a ten-fold yield, and this farmer enjoys a hundred-fold yield. The campesino sharecroppers listening to Jesus’ story were no doubt barely eking out a survival as they got deeper and deeper into debt to the landlords each season. For them, the mere suggestion of such a miracle crop was gospel news indeed. It spelled freedom; this one crop would enable them to pay off the boss and get a little plot of land to call their own. It would turn the Holy Landscape upside down.
The disciples want to decipher the story beyond its wild dreams of agrarian reform for the indentured field hands. So Jesus spells it out for them. The seed is the Word, the Message of love and grace and forgiveness. It is the creative Word that has the power to transform and re-shape individuals and communities. It is gospel news that means the deepest freedom and the wildest dream come true. But not everybody gets it. Not everybody is ready for it. The problem is, the good news Message isn’t the only thing being broadcast into the fields of our lives. The culture, with its in-home transmitter and its smart phone 24-7 connection, bombards us with words and messages day in and day out, cultivating the soil of our hearts so that the ph of our lives will be adjusted to receive and grow its messages of vengeance and violence, seduction and consumption. And this chemistry makes many people’s lives too acidic or too base to be able to germinate the gospel seeds.
But the interesting thing to me is that the sower in Jesus’ story broadcasts the same good message of love and grace and forgiveness and peace to one and all, no matter what the soil conditions are. Jesus doesn’t employ Monsanto’s specially designed weed-resistant or thorn-resistant seed. He sows the same message of love to one and all – to people who’s hearts might be thorny or choked up or rocky. This staying on message, no matter who the audience is, just doesn’t come natural to us. Our instincts tell us to send a different message to the greedy scam artist or the terrorist mastermind, because we can be pretty sure that love and mercy won’t work with these folks. As a song lyric suggests, when love doesn’t work, you can try justice, and if justice doesn’t work, you can try force. And then, as a culture, we celebrate when force wins the day, when the dish of vengeance is served and the wicked wind up in a watery grave somewhere at sea. This is not Jesus’ teaching, though. Whether or not the seeds of love and grace and mercy have a chance in hell to take root, they’re the only seeds we’re to sow. And we’re to sow them everywhere, in the hope and faith that there are bound to be some fertile fields out there among the rocks and hard earth and thorns. Our job is to continue spreading the good news of love and welcome and grace and peace, not worrying about where it falls, whether beside the path or on the rocks or in the brier patch or in the rich topsoil. We can trust the Spirit to be about the work of soil cultivation, preparing hearts to receive the word. Meanwhile, let’s go scatter some seeds.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Sowing and Reaping.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.