Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew.
Glory to you, O Lord.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer.
It has been said that “No person is an island,” and if look at our world right now we are doing a good job at living into this statement. The personal and political fragmentation going on.
Spend some time on social media or reading the news and it seems like we live in a world of many, many islands right now—with crumbling bridges.
One of the great social and spiritual challenges of our time is reclaiming a sense of togetherness and community instead of the polarization and exploitation. It’s like we experience ourselves as isolated fragments drifting in a vast and uncertain sea, each with our own particular climate, resources, and destiny. The idea that the earth upon which we stand is, in truth, the very same earth as that of our neighbor—that we are all siblings of the same soil—is something we still forget too easily.
Perhaps we are accustomed to the notion of determining our own fate as if our fate is independent of the fates of others, or perhaps we have lost a sense of the complex and life-sustaining blessings of life lived in communion with earth and neighbor. Whatever the reason, it is tempting for many of us to assume that the cultivation of our lives is a personal affair; that who we are and how we are is somehow separate from the chaos of the world around us. We are an island in isolation; we are a un-breached fortress; we are a field enclosed with a sturdy fence, and the fixing of that fence is a our effort alone, like some John Wayne cowboy movie.
This seems to be pretty accurate to our general mentality of our society, but I see evidence to the contrary in our readings tonight/today.
The nature imagery in Isaiah is a metaphor for the way God’s Word accomplishes its purpose. Isaiah presents the image of rain watering the earth and making plants grow, and thereby feeding us all.
While Isaiah probably wasn’t thinking of earth’s water-cycle, we do know that rain falls, waters the ground, enters rivers and flows to the seas, and then is evaporated back into the sky. Yet on that journey water brings life to the land and waterways. It doesn’t return to the sky without first doing God’s creative work and giving life to the land, animals & people.
Later in Isaiah we see the goal of God’s Word. It does not focus on peace and joy for humans alone. There is joy for all the natural world, as the mountains burst into song and the trees clap their hands. What does that imply for our part in living out God’s purpose in the world? It says something about our interdependence with the environment, that our joy could not exist without the mountains and the trees being able to join in it. This means that our loving response to God’s love must encompass the land and the plants and animals, not just the human community.
And then there are so many interpretations of today’s teaching from Jesus, the parable of the sower, might seem to reinforce the notion of our lonely individualism. How many times have you heard this familiar parable and wondered, immediately: which type of soil am I? How fruitfully have I cultivated the Word? How thorny or rocky have I let myself become?
But these are all questions based on our individual selves. It’s not that they are bad questions. After all, the second part of the gospel reading, Jesus’ own explanation of his teaching, suggests that there is absolutely a personal dimension to this parable. But, if we are to bridge the spaces between us, then these are not the only questions that can be asked from this parable.
In a society like ours, filled with false virtues of heroic individualism and private spirituality, perhaps there are better, more urgent questions to be asked.
Rather than wondering which type of soil I am, perhaps I might ask, what are the conditions in my community, in my society, or in the world that inhibit the growth of God’s mission? When hearing this parable about the various places where the seeds of the sower fall, maybe I might ask:
Where have the earth and its inhabitants been so trampled upon by violence or degradation that no seed could ever grow?
Where are rootless parts of the world, that people might not have the safety or stability to live flourishing lives?
How have social, economic, and political pressures themselves become thorns that crowd out the vitality of our communities?
Because it does no good to agree that, no person is an island, and yet still interpret the gospel with only individual concerns. Jesus’ whole purpose, of parables like we hear tonight/today, is to mend and transform the social and spiritual lives shared by all of God’s creation. So, if we are to participate in that mending and transformation we must open our minds and see the connections.
It is no longer sufficient to wonder whether I am good soil or not; instead, I must ask whether we are contributing to a world in which there is good soil enough for all.
It is not enough to ask whether the Word is flourishing in my life; I must ask whether there are the conditions necessary for every creature to flourish in every life, in every land. For no one is an island.
Look at this parable in the eyes of a community can also keep us from judging others for wherever they find themselves in their life of faith. Viewed through the lens of individualism, it would be easy to look at someone else’s spiritual lack of growth and interpret it as the result of laziness or misplaced priorities. It would be tempting to say, “If you tried a little harder, you could make something grow; if you pray harder, you would not be sick,” forgetting that every life is shaped by seasons and circumstances that we know nothing about.
But if we listen to Jesus, we can see that our destinies are bound up in each other. If we listen to Jesus, we can stand alongside one another and ask, how can I help you clear away the stones? How can I tend the places where the thorns have cut you? What might we do together to heal the land beneath our feet?
And ironically, by approaching the parable in a community mindset instead of an individual one that brings us back to a more deeply informed understanding of our own spiritual lives, too. For only in recognizing the interconnection of all things can we clearly and adequately assess any barriers to our own fruitfulness.
This is the gift of realizing that in the Kingdom of God, we are never alone. This is the gift of surrendering ourselves and our stories to a larger narrative. Jesus’ parable invites us to take our place in God’s grace, where we recognize that all of us—every person, every creature, every plant that springs up from the soil—all of us are bound up in one bountiful harvest. A harvest in which love is the seed and justice will be its fruit. A harvest in which there will be enough for all, across the whole earth: where no one is an island.