By any modern measure, the sower in this parable is an idiot, taking perfectly good seed and chucking it into rockpiles, under the blackberry hedge, and onto the street. Seed, particularly healthy, viable seed, is a precious thing and any moderately competent farmer knows that “it puts the seed in the good soil or it gets the hose again.” Any farmer worthy of stewarding life into fruitful harvest is going to put the good seed on the good soil and not waste it in places where it will do no good. So by this sort of measure, the sower of seed is an idiot who should have their seed bag taken away.
Of course, this only makes sense if we assume that the seed has no power within itself. If the seed is this flickering candle flame of life, frail and fragile in the face of the vicisitudes of the world then yes, the sower is being dumb. In truth the parable Jesus tells is however, not really about the seed, it’s an opportunity to reflect on our own response to the word of God . But given the power inherent in the Old Testament reading, I want to reflect on the reality of power inherent in the seed and why chucking it into stupid places is not as stupid as one might first think it to be.
This is because of what the seed is and what it contains. Jesus explains that the seed is the Word of God. Does anyone remember where else in the Gospels the notion of “Word” comes up? Hint: “in the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God.” So according to John’s Gospel, the Word is Jesus himself and while we can call Jesus a whole lot of things, “helpless, passive wimp” does not exactly spring to mind.
Furthermore, the Gospels also include the parable of the seed growing secretly, a story that shows the power in the seed which grows “of itself” without outside pressure or understanding. On the whole, seeds come off in Scripture as rather strong little things with a power in themselves to grow regardless of conditions.
And then there’s the Isaiah reading. Andrew Peterson has put this text to music in a very tender way, showing that just as the rain and snow come down from the sky and do not return without accomplishing their task, the Word of God also will accomplish its work. Remind me again, what did Jesus call the seed? Oh yeah “the Word of God.”
So Jesus is the Word of God, the Word of God accomplishes the task set before it, “giving seed to the sower and bread for the hunger.” And instead of seeing this power, preachers encourage us to focus on “how to be Good Soil” (because, in spite of Scripture’s firm reminder, “it all depends on me being good” [eyeroll]).
We have encouraged one another to see in this parable a reminder to “be good” and that our life and hope depend on cultivating the soil of our being so we’re somehow “good enough” to bring forth the abundant harvest by ourselves. It is true that our spiritual life does include the work of un-hardening our hearts and that this work requires a certain awareness of what binds us deep inside but the idea that we have to do this alone? That’s strictly for the birds.
Martin Luther subtly made that point in his Small Catechism when, in explaining the third part of the Creed, he pointed out that “it is not by my own reason, power or strength that I come to believe in Jesus Christ, but it is the Holy Spirit which daily calls, enlightens, and sanctifies me.” Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out that it is God’s power “that can make a way out of no-way” that brings our life together. And Isaiah tops it off by reminding us of the power of the Word of God that is loose in our life through the seed of life that has been planted in us.
And it will make a name, make a name for our God,a sign everlasting that will never be cut off.
As the earth brings for sprouts from the seed,what is sown in the garden grows into a mighty tree.
So the Lord plants justice, justice and praiseto rise before the nations till the end of days.
This is the power set loose in our lives through the seed that has been sown in us. So instead of cringeing in fear about “is my soil good enough?” Or spending our time working hard to “be good,” marvel at the power set loose in you. The seed of the life of God is in you and through the power that is already there, your life is already being transformed into life, hope and joy.