13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 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. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears[a] listen!” (Matthew 13:1-9 NRSV)
Jesus is a lousy farmer and an even worse businessman.
You don’t cast seed all over the place. It’s wasteful. You have to carefully cultivate the soil. Get the right mix of fertilizer; turn over the soil to let the air and nutrients in; plant the seed carefully so as not to waste any. Then surround it all with a method of keeping the animals out. Weed early and often. Get a good irrigation system.
You don’t plant a new church just anywhere. You study the demographics. You decide who the target audience will be: millennial’s with children are a popular choice. Then you find the perfect place: store front; existing church building; arena; television. You gear everything to your chosen demographic down to the decorations in the worship area and the music and message.
After all, that’s how we do business. McDonald franchisees don’t just pop a building down and watch it grow. They’ve been doing it for so long that they know the formula. Small towns are selected by the numbers: for example, population and average income. Before they even clear land they know who will drive through town and be most likely to stop at the restaurant for a hamburger.
No. Jesus knows nothing about business, economics or church planting. He has a sower who casts seed all over the place. A full 75% of it falls into hard soil or gets scorched by the sun or gets trapped with sharp thorns. 75% of the seed is wasted.
Yet, for all our hard work and effort and our studies and seminars, the Christian Church in the northern hemisphere is dying. Since 1965 the mainline church has steadily drifted downhill to be the sidelined church.
Maybe we need to quit fighting Jesus and, instead, sit ourselves down and listen to him.
The sower casts seed everywhere: rocky soil, scorching sun, sharp thorns and good soil. It goes everywhere. Up there in the trees only to slip down onto the pathway. Those big black crows crowd the field waiting for seed to come their way so they can have a meal. The farmer forgot about cultivating the soil and failed to get rid of those thorny bushes.
And the crop yields as much as a hundred-fold.
Are you a careful sower or a lavish one? Are you afraid of running out of seed or do you cast this precious resource in faith?
Churches run on strict budgets. Often the electric bill trumps the mission budget. Every month the board gathers and studies the financial report in detail. And all we see is scarcity and that frightens us. We’d better scale back on the Vacation Bible School budget; surely there are other churches who can help support the food pantry.
The wealthiest nation in the world and we’re running scared that we don’t have enough. So we hoard our seed and only bring it out when we can reasonably expect a good crop. We pass up the hard soil and thorns and scorching sun. We’re afraid of failure.
By the time Jesus is getting into that boat to teach, he’s hit a few walls himself. His ministry was growing. The harvest was plentiful but the laborers were few. Jesus trained and then sent out his disciples to heal and proclaim his message. But then his close friend, John the Baptist sends word from prison: you don’t look and act like a Messiah. Perhaps we should keep looking?
And now the religious elites, desperate to keep the status quo and their power, are pushing back. Jesus is feeling the push-back and is taking his teaching in a new direction. He’s teaching in parables. He’s preaching to his followers more, sharing images of kingdom work in words they can understand. And many of those parables center on trouble: seed falling on hard soil, under scorching sun and among the thorns.
But the seed also falls in the rich soil and breaks forth lavishly.
This week, two people have crossed my path. The first was a fruitful visit. We were able to help her out with gasoline and we came up with an idea where she could raise some money to pay her utility bill. The second needed a room for the night. And food. And gasoline. We provided these, and I suggested a few places where he might be able to find work. He called me later saying his car had broken down, did I know anyone who had a car they would donate to him and his family?
We might well predict that the first will do well and the man and his family will move from town to town looking for handouts. But, we don’t know that, do we? Perhaps we cast the seed on rocky soil. We don’t know and it’s not our job to know until God is ready to share that with us.
It’s a fact of life that our message will be rejected. It happened to Jesus and it’ll happen to us. It’s not our job to be successful. We’re called to be faithful.
Carefully laid plans and demographic studies and pie charts are a good idea until they choke out the seed. The sower wasn’t trying to be wasteful; he was trying to be lavish. His was a reflection of God who created a sustainable and beautiful world for us, his greatest achievement; who provided manna and quail and water in the wilderness for forty years; who brought the Hebrews into a land of promise.
The sower wasn’t trying to be wasteful. He trusted in God’s abundance and didn’t go around looking for growth. He knew that growth would happen in some places and not in others.
So, in our efforts to make our corner of the kingdom just a little bit better, we can turn to this parable and glean something from it. We’re called to be faithful and lavish in our encounter with others. We are disciples of Jesus who can’t be faithful unless we continue to persevere and continue learning by listening — really listening to Jesus’ teachings. And understand that not everything we sow will be harvested by us. It may be harvested by others or die in the scorching sun. That’s God’s problem. God will take care of it.
There will be rejection. Look what happened to Jesus. Learn what you can from it and move forward. Jesus’ message isn’t wrong or silly or unimportant. There’s no guarantee where the seed will land.
The promise is this: God isn’t finished with us, yet. God will provide in abundance if we will set aside our fear of scarcity. Not all of the seed will fall in the wrong places; some of it will grow a hundredfold.
Looking at it that way, I guess Jesus’ ideas aren’t so bad. His sense of business and economics and farming are, indeed, solid. We’re the ones who use the wrong lens.
Perhaps it’s time to learn from him through the lens of kingdom values.
All glory and honor be to God.