More Fun with Jesus – Hyperbole Edition

As best as I can tell, we hear the Parable of the Mustard Seed two out of every three years in the Revised Common Lectionary.  We hear Matthew’s version this week, Proper 12, Year A and Mark’s original on Proper 6, Year B (Luke has it in his Gospel, but we skip over it in Year C).  Every time the Parable of the Mustard Seed is read at the 7:30 service on Sunday morning, Mr. Little, a man who has farmed in South Baldwin County since the end of WWII, whose hands look like this:

onion hands

comes out and says, “I don’t know what kind of mustard seeds Jesus was planting, but mine certainly don’t grow into trees.”  Not knowing the first thing about agriculture generally or mustard plants specifically, I always chuckle and merely shrug my shoulders.

As I’ve been reading my go-to sources this week, I’ve begun to realize that maybe Mr. Little is on to something.  Several of my usual commentators have suggested that perhaps Jesus was using hyperbole to make his point, that perhaps in the rolling of their eyes, the crowd full of farmers and fishermen by the seashore would have learned something.  Here’s how Mark Vitalis Hoffman, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Gettysburg Lutheran puts it:

The Mustard Seed parable has often been sadly reduced to “From small beginnings come great endings.” Since it is set among the accounts emphasizing abundant harvests, Matthew may have this idea in mind as it pertains to the ultimate triumph of God’s dominion, but such a reading also overlooks the parabolic difficulties it poses. Mustard is closer to being a weed than wheat. For a symbol of success, the cedar tree is a better choice. According to Ezekiel 17:23, the “noble cedar” provides the kind of shelter birds’ need, so Jesus is providing a stark and surprising contrast here. To say it becomes the “greatest of shrubs” is faint praise and to call it a “tree” can only be hyperbolic irony. What becomes striking is that this lowly plant is the unexpected symbol of God’s dominion. Is there any other “tree” that could so scandously become part of God’s plan? (Source)

Jesus doesn’t compare the Kingdom of Heaven to the Cedars of Lebanon.  Instead, he compares to the mustard plant, a weedy bush that produces no real fruit, only very pungent seeds carried in a pod.

As I’ve said before, parables aren’t meant to be easy.  They are complex, literary hand grenades that invite us to look at their various layers of meaning to see what we can glean from them about the Kingdom of God.  Taking on all five this Sunday might be a bit much, but the keen preacher might pick one or two and dive in deeply, probing the question, what is the Kingdom of God really like?

The Kingdom is like…

While I enjoy all three weeks of Parable Season, my distrust of all things allegory makes week three the shining star.  Clearly the disciples, and Matthew’s readers, have failed to fully grasp Jesus’ drawn out metaphorical parables.  They, and we, have been further confused by his attempts to explain them.  And so this week, Jesus tries a different tack, straight up simile.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like…

  • A Mustard Seed
  • Yeast
  • A Treasure Hidden in a Field
  • A Merchant in Search of a Fine Pearl
  • A Net Thrown into the Sea

These are five very different ways of explaining the kingdom.  None of them is able to carry the full weight of explaining the Kingdom of Heaven.  In fact, combined, they still don’t even begin to do the job justice.  Still, there is plenty to learn from these five short similes about the Kingdom.

  • The Mustard Seed – the Kingdom of Heaven may look unassuming at the start, but when it takes root, it changes the very landscape of your heart.  From shrub to tree to a home for the birds of the air (those pesky things that stole the seed back in the Parable of the Sower), the Kingdom changes everything.
  • Yeast – the Kingdom of Heaven is subversive: working through an inordinate amount of flour, even this little bit of yeast can change the world.
  • A Treasure – this is a tough one.  It seems as though Jesus is telling the disciples to be unscrupulous.  It is awfully unethical to find a treasure, not tell the land owner, and buy it at market value, but Jesus did once tell his disciples to be shrewd like the children of this age and to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
  • A Merchant – the Kingdom of Heaven is of great value, in fact, it will cost you everything, even your very life.  This is the parabolic version of “take up your cross and follow me.”
  • A Net – though God desires the restoration of all of creation, there will come a day when everyone will have to make a choice: do I want to live in God’s love or not?  I believe there is a hell, though I hope it will be empty at the second coming when everyone, experiencing the overwhelming love of God, chooses to live in the Kingdom of Heaven that is so unspeakably awesome (I use that overused word very intentionally), that even Jesus can’t explain it fully in human terms.

Have you understood all this?

The Bible really is an hilarious book. There are all sorts of points of entry for the sarcastic and snarky as well as those whose sense of humor is more polite and tame.  This week, we have one of those moments between Jesus and his disciples that just makes me laugh.  Like many of the jokes in scripture, however, the way the story is chopped up on the lectionary means we miss out.

Our scene begins with Jesus telling a few more kingdom parables to the crowd: the mustard seed and the yeast.  After he finishes those two stories, the lectionary skips 11 verses that we had last Sunday: the terrible explanation of the Parable of Wheat and Tares.  In that section, Matthew tells us that Jesus and his disciples had retired into the house where they were staying (13:36).  After explaining to them the earlier parable (37-43), Jesus goes on to tell only his disciples the final three parables: the treasure in the field, the merchant in search of fine pearls, and the seine net.  It is kind of important that we know this detail as we deal with passive aggressive Jesus in verses 51 and 52.  Here’s the exchange from the Contemporary English Version.

After the Parable of the Sower, the disciple try to coax an explanation by saying that the crowds didn’t understand it.  After the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, they are more direct, “Just tell us what it means, Jesus.”  After three rapid-fire parables about the kingdom, Jesus knows full well that the disciples don’t have a clue what he’s talking about, but like most of us, when their honor is tested, the disciples lie.  “Sure, Jesus, we get it.”  And so he lays down the gauntlet with a final parable about themselves.  “Every student of the Scriptures who becomes a disciples in the kingdom of heaven is like someone who brings out new and old treasures from the storeroom.”  He doesn’t ask the question again, but you can infer it, “Do you understand?”

After what seems like an eternity in Romans, we are getting pretty used to listening to convoluted sentences, but this little parable might be the toughest we’ve heard yet.  “Every student of the Scriptures who becomes a disciples in the kingdom of heaven is like someone who brings out new and old treasures from the storeroom.”  I think I know what that parable means.  I think it affirms my model of teaching for a congregation that spans at least four generations.  I think I’m supposed to use the language of the people, even when that language changes dramatically depending on if you were born in 1934, 1954, 1974, or 2004.  I think maybe that’s what I’m supposed to learn from it, but I also think it is hilarious.  I think Jesus called the disciples’ bluff.  I think they, like us, didn’t understand anything Jesus said in Matthew 13, and I think that might be the point.

The Glory to be Revealed

I can’t be sure, but I’d be willing to bet at least a couple of dollars that more than 80% of the funerals that I’ve been a part of in my seven years of ordained ministry have included a reading from Romans 8.  The assigned passage for Sunday doesn’t include all of the lesson suggested in the Burial Office, but it does capture the key line for preaching, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”  On this day, as the 24 hour news agencies can’t keep up with the carnage between a Malaysian Airlines 777 being possibly shot down over the disputed region of the Ukraine and Israeli Defense Forces beginning a ground assault on the Gaza Strip, this word of hope that Paul offers the struggling Church in Rome seems so very far away.

On days like today, it is easy to make Romans 8:18 into a nice platitude, “Oh, don’t worry hunny, this ain’t nothing compared to the glory to be revealed.”  Heck, we can even turn it into a beach scene suitable for social media.

grumpy cat

 

But I think most of us agree that people who say that sort of crap should be punched square in the mouth.  Yes, it is true that joy and glory is a secure promise for those who are in Christ, but the reality is that suffering still happens on earth.  People still do terrible things to other people.  Sometimes nature is a force too strong to fathom.  Violence and war are still a part of even our most progressive cultures.  Weeds still grow alongside wheat.

Pointing to the glory that is to come is a nice thought, but what matters more in those moments of grief and pain is the presence of another human being, who’s #1 job is to just be.  Skip the platitudes.  Don’t share the pretty picture. Sit with those who are suffering and offer them a hug and a shoulder to cry on, and maybe silently say a prayer for the glory to come sooner rather than later.

O merciful Father, who has taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve your children: Look with pity upon the sorrows of those for whom our prayers are offered.  Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, lit up your countenance upon them, and given them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

That Pesky “So What” Question Again

It seems clear that we have another descriptive rather than prescriptive parable on our hands.  Jesus doesn’t tell us to be wheat.  He expressly says that us human types don’t get to do the judging or the harvesting or the burning of the weeds.  No, we are merely wheat, or so we hope, growing for a season in the midst of a sabotaged field.  Is this really what the Kingdom of God is like?  Me just soaking up sunlight, rain, and nutrients all provided by a God who seems just a little bit of his rocker?

I’m not good at taking vacations.  The typical vacation lasts for 7 days.  I can sit and do nothing for approximately 2 hours.  Even 2 weeks of merely descriptive parables has me on edge.  So, the idea that the Kingdom of God is like me being on vacation for my entire life is enough to make me think it isn’t for me.  I need something to do, some task to accomplish, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that this week’s parable is actually a parable about last week’s parable.  This week we get the Parable of the Good Soil.

Seeds that fell on good soil, seeds which should produce at least a 30 fold yield have been sabotaged by the evil one.  He has come and turn what was good soil into a weed infested mess.  The cares and concerns of the world, the lure of wealth, illness and death, all of it grows right alongside each of us and attempts to choke the very faith out of us.  It would be easy to succumb to the pressure of the weeds roots below.  It’d be simple to allow their shadow to steal our light.  Getting choked out by the weeds wouldn’t be hard, and God knows it.  So he continues to provide nutrients, he continues to allow the rain to fall on the just and unjust alike, he continues to allow the sun to shine on both the wheat and the tares, and he encourages us to persevere.  To see beyond the current hardships.  To stand tall above the weeds.  To fight for nourishment when others would starve us of God’s grace.  We are called to be the best damn wheat we can be, even and especially in a field full of pesky weeds.

Yes, this parable is descriptive.  Yes, we are really just called to be wheat.  Yes, this drives me crazy, so yes, I’m going to do my best to be as wheaty as possible when the harvest comes.

Do I know any weeds?

The Parable of Wheat and Tares is a difficult parable for lots of reasons.  As I noted yesterday, there is the whole issue of eschatology to deal with.  My friend Evan spent today’s post pondering the existence of hell, which got me thinking about that which ends up in the furnace, the weeds.  This parable is a Presbyterian’s dream because it seems to indicate that we are predestined toward a final destination: God’s granary or the unquenchable fire.

Yet even that raises questions.  As the parable goes, God’s sowers do the good work of planting good seed.  This is, we can assume, those who, as our Romans lesson suggested last week, live in the Spirit.  The wheat are those who live in the Kingdom of Heaven, who seek after the good and perfect will of Father, who seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God.  The wheat, quite simply, are the good guys.  The weeds, on the other hand, are not planted by God.  They are the work of the evil one, the deceiver, Satan, who comes under the cover of darkness and spreads bad seed on God’s field.  The weeds, Jesus tells us are children of the evil one: those who seek not after the will of God, but after their own selfish desires; those who tear down rather than build up; those who ignore the plight of the widow and orphan.  The weeds are the bad guys.  On a runoff election day in South Alabama, the imagination begins to swirl with images of a holy label gun being used to brand candidates as weeds or wheat.

Here’s where the parable and systematic theology break down.  What does it say about God that he allows the devil to come behind and sow bad seed?  How does God allow Satan to ruin his good creation?  This parable sets forth a God who is, at best, only as strong as and yet more foolish than Satan himself.  This is not the God of all creation that we espouse in the Creeds.  How is it possible that there are weeds running around among us good wheat?   And how can we tell the difference?  Do I know any weeds?  Am I a weed?  I think we have successfully broken this metaphor, which is the primary indicator of getting the parable wrong.

This parable, like last week’s story of the Sower, isn’t about us.  It is about God and his kingdom.  It is about the one who loves us enough to let of muck things up, loves us enough to find us where we are, and loves us enough to not let us stay that way.  It isn’t a systematic theology, but a story that invites us to ponder God’s larger plan for creation and his vision for the age to come.  It isn’t an easy parable, that is certain, but it is full of good grain that invites us to think  about and pray for the Kingdom of God.

Eschatology and Parables – Oh My!

As I tried to make clear last week, I love parables because they aren’t easy to understand.  This presumes that I enjoy working at difficult theology, which I do, but everyone has their limit.  So it is when the lectionary invites us to handle the Parable of Wheat and Tares.  For the second straight week, we are given a juicy parable by Jesus.  This one even starts with a variant of my favorite opening line, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”

If all we had was the parable itself, this would be an interesting enough exercise.  What does it mean that in his description of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus includes a) the enemy and b) the enemy’s fruit?  How does Jesus’ acknowledgement of the presence of evil help us to understand the world around us better?  How does it open up our imaginations around the Kingdom of God?  What does it say that the farmer allows the tares (weeds) to grow alongside the good wheat throughout the growing season?  These are just a few of the several difficult questions that are brought up in this week’s parable.

But the lesson doesn’t end there.  For the second straight week, we are also given an allegorical interpretation from the lips of Jesus himself.  As I said in my sermon yesterday, I don’t particularly like allegories because I think they make the parables too easy to understand.  This is not the case this week, however.  This week, Jesus raises the bar by including in his allegory “the harvest is the end the age.”  So not only do we have the depth of the parable to deal with, but we also have eschatology or in more common parlance, the End Times.  Matthew’s Gospel has a strong eschatological bend to it.  He spends most of chapters 24 and 25 expanding on Mark’s Little Apocalypse.  Given the first century context and the notion that Jesus was coming back “before some in this generation fell asleep,” it makes sense that the Gospel writers would deal with the end of the age, but now 2,000 years later, when eschatology is mostly the purview of a few quack authors who enjoy clothesline theology, the average Mainline preacher will be well advised and probably hard pressed to carefully handle the eschatology in Jesus’ interpretation of the Parable of Wheat and Tares.

The truth of the matter is, I don’t feel equipped to deal with the eschatology in this parable adequately.  I’m not preaching this week, so I probably won’t take the time to do the research, but I will pray for those who are preaching this Sunday.  It is a daunting task.  If you are preaching this week, I’d love to hear how you handle to deal with this parable and its inherent eschatology.  And if you have a go to resource, be sure to link to in in the comments.

The Parable of the Sower isn’t about the Soil – a sermon

Today’s sermon is on the Saint Paul’s Website, or you can read it below.

I love parable season. It may not get songs written about it as “the most wonderful time of the year,” but these three weeks in Year A that invite us to tarry in Matthew 13, hearing no less than seven different parables, are some of my favorites. Maybe it is because I’m a nerd. Maybe it is because with the World Cup coming to an end this afternoon, the great doldrums of summer sports is upon us, and I need something to ponder other than if Tiger can find his swing and which baseball player is taking steroids this year. Most likely it is because parables are an excellent teaching tool.
Parables add excitement to my life by making me think. The word parable derives from a Greek work which means “to throw alongside.” Parables are helpful because they take a hard to understand concept like the Kingdom of God and lay down alongside it something that is easily relatable from real life. In Jesus’ day, he used images like farming and fishing. Sometimes a parable is simply a simile, “the Kingdom of God is like…” Other times they are long, drawn out metaphors. Like any metaphor, when taken too far, a parable breaks down. This is the challenge of parabolic teaching. It is kind of like the Price is Right. Parables invite you to take them as far as the metaphor will let you go without going over.
It is worth noting that Jesus tells us precisely what we are to do with parables. In a section we skipped over, Jesus’ disciples who are obviously confused by the Parable of the Sower, but don’t want Jesus to know, ask him, “Why do you talk to the people in parables?” He responds with a fairly long answer which I sum up as, “because I want people to listen, to see, and to think.” Jesus doesn’t hand us a blueprint of the Kingdom of God, but instead invites us to take our part in the larger building project. Through parables, he gives us an idea of what the finished product is supposed to look like and then challenges us to use our brains and our talents to create it. Unlike building from a set of plans, this way of building the Kingdom is sometimes sloppy and maybe requires some tearing down and starting over, but it is empowering. As children of God, we are invited to take what we learn from Jesus and to mold it into something that is good and life giving.
And so, this morning, we are given the gift of the Parable of the Sower and invited to think about how to build the Kingdom of God with it. There are at least three different ways we can go too far with this parable. The first is the classic mistake of literalism. It should be obvious that in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus isn’t describing a new way of farming in the Kingdom of God. Any farmer worth his salt would know that you don’t turn on the seed spreader when you leave the barn and let it just fling seed all down the road, onto the shoulder, and into the drainage ditches. Even with my two brown thumbs, I know that in order for plants to grow, the soil first has to be cultivated. Good soil is nutrient rich; it has to be fertilized; it needs good irrigation and drainage; and it mustn’t have too little or too much sunlight. The first mistake to avoid is to realize that Jesus isn’t prescribing a new farming style for his followers.
The second mistake we often make is allegorizing. Allegorical interpretation of the parables has been a popular sport over the years, and we aren’t helped by the fact that Jesus interprets his own parable allegorically in the second half of this morning’s lesson. I’m not a fan of allegory because I think it is too easy, and as I’ve alluded to already, I don’t think parables are supposed to be easy. If God is the sower and the Word is the Seed, and we are the soil, then what is there left for us to decipher? Jesus even goes so far as to tell us what kind of person each particular kind of soil represents: the hard hearted path doesn’t understand the Word, the shallow rocky soil won’t allow faith to take root, the unprepared, weed infested soil will choke out faith, and the good soil allows the Word to flourish. It all seems simple enough. Too simple really because if it is all so straight forward, why do you need me?
Allegorical interpretation, though simple and quite tempting, often leads to a third common mistake, moralism. From the time we first hear the parable of Three Little Pigs as children, we are conditioned to find the moral in every story. Build your house out of bricks, don’t cry wolf, slow and steady wins the race, don’t count your chickens before they hatch, and for goodness sakes, BE GOOD SOIL! Having heard the description of the four different types of soil, we can’t help but put these words on the lips of Jesus, “Be good soil,” but in reality he never says that. He never says “be good soil” because that’s not what the Parable of the Sower is all about, and as strongly as I believe that, I still spent the majority of this week spinning my wheels in mistake number three. I knew the moral wasn’t “be good soil,” but by George I was going to find the moral to this story. I read and I prayed and I listened and I went to Father Keith’s Bible Study, determined to crack the code of this parable. I worked and I worked and I worked to turn this cart path of a parable into good soil, and I thought maybe I had figured it out on Thursday afternoon, but my friend Evan and that guy sitting over there helped me realize that the true moral of the story is the moral of my week wrestling with it: I can’t.
I can’t make this story have neat and tidy moral, and I can’t make myself into good soil. I just can’t. This isn’t to say that if you think you are a path or rocky soil or full of weeds that there is no hope for you, in fact I think it is saying precisely the opposite. First of all, none of us is all one type of soil. Each of us has all four kinds of soil in our hearts, and despite all the talk about soils, the Parable of the Sower isn’t really about dirt at all. The Parable of the Sower is, as the name implies, really about the Sower. This story is a description of our prodigal God. God knows it is foolish to spread seed on unworthy soil, but he does it anyway. God spreads his love with reckless abandon in hearts that are at once all four different types of soil. He throws seed at the disciples who over and over and over again prove that they have hard hearts, stiff necks, and dim minds. Jesus continues to throw seed at them, continues to work with them, and continues to help them see what God is up to in the world around them. He scatters the seed of the Gospel with wild prodigality, and even when it is clear that his disciples just don’t get it, when they turn him over to the authorities, abandon him in his hour of need, and deny even knowing him; Jesus continues to pour out his love on them by inviting them to back into the fold after the resurrection.
God is downright foolish in his love for you and me as well. We who continue in the proud hard hearted, stiff necked and dim minded tradition of the disciples. We who seek morals in stories that have none. We who ignore morals in stories that call us to action. We who neglect to build the kingdom and instead focus on building ourselves. We who show again and again why we need forgiveness and we forget again and again to give it. The good news is: God continues to throw seed at us. He pours out his love upon us relentlessly. And when he finds even the smallest patch of good soil in our hearts, he nurtures the Kingdom within us, producing an abundant harvest: 30, 60, even 100 fold. This parable is about God and his wildly extravagant love for us, and that, I’ve been reminded this week, is more than enough. Amen.

The “So What?” Question

I love parable season.  I really do.  But this week isn’t working out quite the way I had imagined.  It has been a busy week, which, when dealing with spiritual hand grenades, isn’t ideal.  So here I am, at 10 to 2 on Thursday afternoon, my usual sermon writing time, and I’m still struggling around this question of “So What?”  I was supposed to have lunch with my friend and fellow Bible blogger, Evan, and per his post this morning, we were supposed to talk about this very issue, “So What?”, but that didn’t happen, so now my poor readers will have to read as I struggle through it in print.

The problem Evan raises in the post linked above is the crux of the issue.  If I am soil and there is nothing soil can do in and of itself to change from path to good stuff and if this story is really about God’s prodigal grace, then what is the preacher to do other than tell the parable for a third or fourth time after the people have already heard it twice in the Gospel lesson?  If I can’t draw a flow chart like this one:

The Parable of the Sower

Then what the heck do I preach?

Thankfully, yesterday I sat in on TKT’s Bible Study on the Parables of Jesus. Conveniently, the topic at hand was very parable.  As I sat and listened to it, rather than reading it, I realized that Jesus describes three action steps in his interpretation of the Parable of the Sower.  First, the word of the kingdom is heard.  Hearing is a totally passive activity.  Sound waves travel all around and when they happen to enter the ear canal and vibrate the ear drum, hearing happens whether or not I’m paying attention.  In the context of the parable, this is the work of the sower, seed is cast no matter the type of soil.

Secondly, Jesus says that some hearers will understand to word of the kingdom.  This is, I believe, the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Holy Spirit is constantly tending the soil of our hearts.  Some of us are 90% good soil and others are 90% path, but no matter the make up of our hearts, the Spirit is at work with tiller, water, and fertilizer, working to create as receptive as possible a place in our hearts.  The Spirit attempts to soften up the path, to break up the rocky under layment, to pull up the weeds, and to continuously nurture the good soil of our hearts.  We can’t do anything to make ourselves receptive to the word or to better understand it when it comes, that is a gift of grace.

Finally, the seeds that fall on good soil produce fruit with varying degrees of effectiveness: some 100, some 60, some 30 fold.  This is where we get to help out.  When we recognize the kingdom of God at work in our lives, then we are seemingly compelled to respond by helping it grow.  Thanks to the gift of seed from the Sower God, and the tending of the soil by the Farmer Spirit, and through the grace of Jesus Christ, we are able to respond to God’s work in our lives by sharing it with those around it through evangelism, giving, outreach, care, and love.  Children of the Kingdom are known by their works.  Their works don’t get them in, as this parable makes clear, but the sign and symbol of the grace of God at work in their lives is the fruit of good works.

So there, I guess I’ve worked out my issues here on WordPress.  Still, I wish I could have had lunch with Evan.

What the Parable of the Sower Might Be About

It has been said that as soon as one thinks they’ve grasped the meaning of a parable, they’ve lost it.  This might be hyperbole, but I’m apt to think it probably isn’t too fair from the truth.  The gift of a parable, as I said on Monday, is that it is complex, nuanced, multifaceted.  I may find one particular meaning in the Parable of the Sower while you may find another.  Even naming it “the Parable of the Sower” betrays that my understanding of the story comes from a particular angle.  You may choose to call it “the Parable of the Soil,” but as I said yesterday, I’d think you were wrong. ;-)

Many preachers find their understanding of this parable in the explanation given in verses 18-23.  This is well and good, but it leads us to talk about two dirty secrets of exegesis: things I swore I wouldn’t talk about once I left seminary.  The first is the Historical Critical method of Biblical interpretation.  Historical Criticism seeks to find the origins of the text in order to find the kernal of truth hidden inside.  In order to do quality Biblical exegesis, one must understand Historical Criticism in order to ignore it in the pulpit.  So, for example, most scholars argue that the interpretation given for the Parable of the Sower is not original to Jesus, but rather it was added by Matthew, building off of an addition my Mark, as a pastoral response to his original church context.  It can be considered sacrilegious and heterodox to suggest that the Bible says something that might not actually be true, so many modern preachers, knowing this information, skirt around it by being bold enough to suggest a different interpretation, thereby asserting that maybe the one attributed to Jesus isn’t the only way.  This leads us to the second secret of exegesis, we all interpret scripture differently because scripture is not univocal.  Again, in our interpretation from verses 18-23, we see that it begins with “Jesus” telling “the disciples” to “hear again the parable of the sower,” but yet once the interpretation begins, it is all about the soil.  So which is it really about?  Good preachers will explore both avenues before settling on their own interpretive angle.  Some will argue that we should be good soil.  Others will say that we should spread the seed of the Gospel.  Me, well you already know mine.

I think the Parable of the Sower is about the prodigality of God.  Whether the sower is God the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit changes over time, but the truth about God remains the same, God spreads his love with reckless abandon in hearts that are at once all four different types of soil.  No where is this more evident than in the lives of the disciples, who, as Elisabeth Johnson points out, Jesus invests in over and over and over again despite their hard hearts, stiff necks, and dim minds.  He continues to work at them, helping them to understand just what God is up to.  He scatters the seed of the Gospel with reckless abandon, and even when it is clear that they just don’t get it, when they turn him over to the authorities, abandon him in his hour of need, and deny even knowing him; he continues to pour out his love on them, inviting them to back into the fold after his resurrection.

God is downright foolish with his love for us, scattering seed indiscriminately and tending to soil that should have been abandoned long ago.  That is, I think, what this parable is all about.