If I had my way I would have this Gospel reading from St Matthew, the parable of the Sower, read more often at Church. The reason that I say this is that what we have just heard is something that is beautiful, the ideas, the words, the images and pictures it conveys, you could never grow tired of listening to it, its easy on the ears. But as well as being beautiful, lyrical and unforgettable, it is also very profound and deeply unsettling – what we are hearing from it is stark questions addressed to ourselves and hard challenges about how we receive God;s word into our lives.
So, if you like religion to be cosy, comforting and easy, then you will not find it in this parable. If you like things unchallenging, then close your ears and look away. If you like life to be sweet smelling then you won’t find it here in these words.
What this parable is a dagger to the heart of the complacent. For those of those who like faith served weak with plenty of milk and three sugars, this won’t make easy reading or listening.
The parable starts off in an easy enough way with a sower scattering widely and generously. If that is an image of God, then we can take some comfort in how God acts, open handed he scatters, he throws the seed wildly, foolishly and in every direction – he seems profligate. The emphasis is on his generosity.
But the parable then moves quickly to what happens to the seed, the road that the seed takes. The images are tough: a stony path of unyielding soil that allows the birds to pick the seed off, rocky ground, a burning and scorching sun, prickly thorns that twist and choke and strangle the living daylights out of the seeds.
All these images that tell of how the seed makes no head way, doesn’t grow, doesn’t bear fruit and doesn’t reach the harvest.
The parable, however, finishes on a more optimistic note that some seed falls on rich soil and does something which is unexpected doesn’t just grow but yields an impossible 20, 30, 50 and 100 times more than what is expected of it.
What does all this mean? If you look to the bible for answers then I would like to suggest to you it is instead full of questions more than it is of answers.
The parable contrasts the generosity of God with the shallowness of the human heart. God scatters widely and generously but the response is not so generous. The gift of the seed it seems is easily stolen away, it meets with no staying power, we are easily put off and succumb to the worries, cares and concerns that we find in the world. The contrast between God’s generosity and the way the word is received is often a world apart.
The thing that makes this parable so distasteful, so hard to swallow, so difficult to listen to is because we realise that it is describing each of us, not somebody else, not someone we can point to, no one lese but ourselves.
The human heart that promises everything and yet disappoints. The human heart that is enthusiastic but doesn’t last, endure or persevere. The human heart that allows what is given generously by God to be to be stolen away. The human heart that is choked and strangled by the worries of the world, that is simply not strong enough.
And yet maybe, just maybe there is in another thing in each of us, the potential that God sees in us to be rich soil, in which his word can take root and yield an incredible harvest, can transform our lives, lead us on the journey of faith and yield an incredible harvest of good in our souls.
If you like faith not to be too challenging you won’t find it in this parable something that is easy to hear. If you like your religion like your tea watery and weak, then you won’t find what you hear to your liking. This is a tough parable.
The scriptures are often full of questions rather than answers.