Jesus Is a Bad Farmer
This week we have the chance to explore the Parable of the Sower, which honestly might better be described as the Parable of the Bad Farmer.
Remember that Jesus taught in an agrarian society, and what might not jump out at us at first was immediately obvious to his original listeners.
Seeds were, and are today, very valuable.
Jesus tells us that the sower sows his seeds on the path, on the rocky ground, on the thorny ground, and finally on the good soil.
You honestly would have to be a pretty stupid farmer to cast 75% of your seed in places where you knew it wouldn’t grow.
And it was incredibly wasteful.
You know the term “seed money”? It’s exactly what it sounds like.
Purchasing seeds is the most important investment a farmer makes outside of buying the land in the first place.
Sowing seeds on the path, the rocky ground and the thorny ground would be like investing money 25% in rotary telephone manufacture, 25% in blacksmithing, 25% in time travel, and 25% in a respected investment fund.
It’s essentially throwing 75% of your money in places you know will never grow, and hoping for the best.
Once it becomes clear that Jesus’ Parable of the Sower is really Jesus’ Parable of the Sower Who Is Really Bad At His Job, we have to ask ourselves why he told it that way.
Is Jesus the bad farmer?
It turns out, he is.
This parable helps us understand the rich generosity of God.
God strews grace everywhere, even and especially in places where God knows it will not take root and grow.
Why? Because it turns out, in a turn of events that is particularly difficult for us to understand, that God is not actually very results oriented.
God is not outcome based. God does not care about return on investment or shareholder value.
God is far more focused on giving grace to us at all times and in all places, whether we are receptive to it or not, than on whether or how soon we are able to bear fruit.
That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want us to bear fruit, it just means that God’s love for us is so extravagant and generous that God seeds grace into our unblossomed hearts year after year after year with indiscriminant love.
If one day we respond and become the good soil that we’re called to be, bearing fruit abundantly, wonderful.
But if we cling to our rocks and thorns for a lifetime, still the seeds of love come showering down, moment by moment, year by year.
And I think what Jesus is aiming for here in telling this parable is a rather specific effect.
The knowledge that the seed will keep coming even if we never manage to bear fruit might give us the courage to give up our rocks and thorns.
If we know that we don’t have to produce a list of spiritual accomplishments and achievements or a percentage of time devoted to good deeds in order to be accepted by God, we might really start to understand and believe that we are unconditionally loved.
And the knowledge that we are unconditionally loved—loved completely outside of ever achieving anything—is what will start to transform us into the good soil.
Opening up to the love of God that Jesus is constantly trying to plant in our dusty, barren hearts will make it possible to start sharing that love with others.
So if we know that the seeds of grace and peace will keep coming even if we cling to our rocks and thorns for a lifetime, how can we begin to let go of them? What does it take to be transformed into good soil?
Well, let’s take a close look at the text, and we begin with the path. Jesus says: “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.”
So the first step to bearing fruit is understanding the word.
What does that require?
Well, for one thing, it requires Christian community.
We have the rich witness of 2000 years of tradition to assist us with how God is communicating with us in the Bible.
Better yet, we have our fellow disciples, both in our local congregation and around the world. We have a lot of people to help us understand the word.
But keeping the word from being snatched away by the evil one—how do we do that?
That requires trust.
It requires trusting that God is really trying to communicate with you, that God has something important to say in and through your life.
To receive the message of God, you have to accept the reality that you are also called to be a message of God.
God can speak through your life to a hurting world if you say yes.
And trusting that that is true guards the seed planted in your heart from the greedy hands of the evil one, the one who would sow doubt and fear and smallness into your heart rather than grace and peace and possibility.
So that gets us off the downtrodden and infertile path. What’s the problem with the rocky ground?
“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.”
We’re back to Christian community. We Americans, rugged individualists all, chafe against the notion of relying on the people around us for something as important as our own salvation and growth in faith.
But the reality that Jesus proclaims over and over is that you can’t do it alone.
Take up the riches of your heritage and tradition, whatever they are, both cultural and religious.
Let the sufferings and joys, the struggles and triumphs of your ancestors in faith inspire and call you forward.
That becomes part of a rooted and grounded identity in the Body of Christ writ large.
You are part of something larger than yourself, and it is those roots that keep you strong when circumstances start to crash in around you in grief and loss and hardship.
“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.”
This one is the subtlest trap of all.
Where we need to begin in terms of escaping the thorns is examining our everyday thought and emotion patterns. What is running through our minds for the majority of our days?
Is it gratitude for grace?
Is it joy at the beautiful people and world around us?
No, if we’re honest.
We’re mostly consumed with worries and plans, the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.
Another way of framing the obsession with the cares of the world and the lure of wealth is to realize that we are always trying to answer the question: “How can I and my family be safe and secure and comfortable?”
There’s nothing wrong with that question, it helps us get up everyday and go to work to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.
But we have to realize that it is not the gospel.
In fact, it can choke the gospel out of our lives if we forget that temporal security is a hollow and fleeting desire in the end.
“Eternal security” has a ring to it that I don’t really like, that sort of smacks of old time “get saved” preaching, but it is another way of talking about the love of God.
We are fundamentally safe, and realizing that is what drives out the thorns of care and worry and need for wealth.
And we’re not likely to remember that on our own every day.
But in Christian community, there are others to remind us, to evangelize us, to proclaim the good news of God’s unchanging love for us.
And then on the days they can’t remember the truth of the Good News, we’ll be there to remind them and help drive out the thorns from their lives.
How much harvest would come out of one cubic centimeter of good soil? Not a whole heck of a lot.
I think one of the most important reminders that we can take out of the Parable of the Sower is that we need community.
Notice that I always use the term “Christian community” rather than “church” or “congregation,” because our true community is rarely confined to the people who attend the same worship service that we do.
I think we need “Christian community” specifically—fellow followers of Jesus Christ—but an equally important circle of support is our broader “spiritual community.”
That includes people of all faiths and of no organized faith who are pursuing the work of life and love and truth in the world.
Together we all become the good soil, one day at a time.
And for all the days that we’re convinced that we ourselves or someone in our circle of community is nothing but barren path or rocky dirt or thorn-infested ground—remember that God the Bad Farmer scatters the seed as liberally there as on the very best soil.
The love always comes—what we choose to do with it will determine what we become.
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