day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake.
2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into
a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the
beach. 3And he told them many things in parables,
saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he
sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came
and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground,
where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up
quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the
sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no
root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among
thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other
seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a
hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with
the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to
them in parables?’ 11He answered, ‘To you it has been
given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but
to them it has not been given. 12For to those who have,
more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but
from those who have nothing, even what they have will be
taken away. 13The reason I speak to them in parables is
that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do
not listen, nor do they understand.”
went out and sat down by the sea. Isn’t that a beautiful image on this
warm summer morning? Can you picture being one of the disciples hanging
out with him, talking, laughing, watching birds wheeling over the water,
a couple of boats out there on the sea, another few along the shoreline.
crowd begins to gather. Jesus sees the crowd forming and gets up. Here
is an opportunity to talk to people about the Kingdom of God—his
favorite thing to do. He welcomes their arrival, finds an empty boat,
gets in, sits down, and begins telling them a story—a parable—about a
farmer sowing seeds.
uses parables to describe the kingdom of God. It’s a challenging thing
to do because we human beings have one basic frame of reference, that is
the world as we know it. We don’t normally have even the first clue
that the spiritual dimension Jesus calls the Kingdom of God works
differently than the world of ordinary experience. So, through
parables, Jesus is trying to describe something that is hidden, that is
mystery, that reverses all our normal expectations.
parable of the sower is the very first parable he tells them. It is the
initial parable in all three of the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and
Luke--and sets the tone for all the others Jesus will tell. It’s a
foundational story for the early Christian community. If you get THIS,
you get the message.
an Episcopal priest and theologian, Robert Farrar Capon, who wrote a
book several years ago called Parables of the Kingdom. In his
exploration of this parable of the sower he talks about God-the-Farmer
sowing the seed of the Word everywhere. If we think of Jesus as the
Word of God, this would mean that Jesus himself is sown everywhere in
the world, even in those places where the Gospel as we know it hasn’t
taken root, where Jesus himself isn’t actually known.
of the disciple is not to SPREAD the word, Farmer God has already done
that, but rather to seek that Word wherever it may be hiding, to know
Jesus is there somewhere even when those around us are clueless, and to
find Jesus, to find the seed of the Word, in all the places where it has
already been sown.
Just think of that for a
isn’t to point it out to those who can’t see and can’t hear, but to know
it’s there ourselves, and to love and tend it with gentle commitment
even when others can’t imagine what we’re doing.
Teresa is an example of someone who lived the message of this parable.
She was often criticized for not speaking to governments and trying to
change the minds and hearts of those whose policies caused so much
death, disease and human misery.
paid no attention to that criticism. Her job, as she saw it, was to see
Jesus in every person who was suffering, to care for their wounds, to
take them in off the streets and give them love and tenderness, to care
for the dying. She looked for Jesus everywhere, convinced he was hidden
behind the grimacing faces of the poor and buried under the dirt and
grime of the street children. God’s good seed was everywhere.
know from Mother Teresa’s letters and private writings that she could
not feel the presence and consolation of Christ as she went about her
days, and yet she still continued to look and to listen for his voice
because she understood with her heart that he was there in all those
grimy places she met and tended his little ones.
good seed. All that rich soil. Hindu landscape. The Word sown
extravagantly and hidden from most eyes. It took a humble and
contemplative disciple like Teresa to see it and witness to its
flourishing while the rest of the world—the great crowd on the
seashore—stood blindly by.
Think about the Word sown in
all those places we might least expect to find it—in Board Rooms of huge
corporations, on Wall Street, in the War Room of the White House, in the
hearts of those who seem cold or angry, in violent situations that
appear beyond redemption. There are many other places we could come up
with, but the point is that there is nowhere on earth that the Word of
God hasn’t been sown and isn’t being sown!
Many of the seeds don’t
sprout. They’re choked out or dried up by viewpoints and frameworks,
philosophies and strategies that prevent that vulnerable and tender
unfolding to occur.
But the seed is still there!
look around we’ll find it in the most unlikely and even inhospitable
places. The Word of God is everywhere and astonishingly productive for
those who have eyes to see.
world-as-we-know-it, the ordinary, common-day world of human experience
is on a different wave-length entirely than is the world Jesus knows and
tries to show us in his stories and in his life. If we look at the
world through Jesus’ parables we see a reality that often doesn’t make
sense to us.
sows seed on rocky ground and even on hardened footpaths, not just in
the rich, fertile soil of his field. This is a seasoned farmer, someone
whose livelihood depends on not wasting seed—yet here he is scattering
it willy-nilly in places he surely must know it won’t grow.
though it would seem to us he’s wasting far too much seed, we learn that
he actually has an outrageous yield from what little seed actually falls
on good soil-- a yield of 30, 60 or 100 times what anyone in their right
mind would expect.
isn’t the way the normal, everyday world works!
of the kingdom of God reverse human logic. The vast plan in the mind of
God is hidden, mysterious and incomprehensible to us. Jesus keeps
trying to tell the disciples (and tell us) to give up our rigid hold on
ordinary consciousness, on the status quo, on the norms of our society
and culture and to open our eyes, open our ears and our hearts to that
deeper reality of his kingdom.
so much more comfortable for us to just pay attention to the mundane
details of our lives, the goals we have outlined for ourselves, or even
those outlined for us by culture, social status, gender roles, career
path and day-to-day personal and family requirements. By staying on
that smooth and hardened footpath we can protect ourselves from sinking
into the rich, loamy soil that might reach for the seed within us and
end up changing everything about our lives.
ordinary “way the world works” is not the way the kingdom of God works.
We humans experience having at least some measure of control in
the mundane world of everyday life. But letting go that rigid hold on
“reality” would mean relinquishing control of the God-seed within us to
that rich fertile soil that waits to break open the outer shell of our
identity. Then we might truly see and hear the deeper mystery and the
extravagant abundance all around us.
the language of transformation and it can frighten the daylights out of
most of us, especially when it threatens to become more than just a
purely intellectual or flittingly spiritual consideration. When we
focus on the ordinary survival needs of ourselves and our family, we can
protect ourselves from seeing and hearing the dangerous and
transformative Word of God in our lives.
why the crowd gathered around Jesus on that seashore is so obtuse.
Ordinary consciousness wants nothing to do with the secrets of the
Kingdom, because those secrets are all about letting go of the beliefs
that cause everything to seem safe, relatively unchanging and normal.
disciples, however, are called to follow the mysterious and hidden
spiritual path of change and deep inner transformation rather than stay
the course of superficial normalcy. They, then, are given access to
those “secrets” of transformation, secrets of letting go into the
mysterious process of disappearance and re-generation, secrets of the
astonishing yield a few good seed might have when surrendered to the
overwhelming fertility of God’s grand design.
A frustrating thing about
scattered seed is that so much of it seems to be wasted. Those of us
who have raised children know how many of our most-prized “Words of
Wisdom” have gone unheeded throughout the years only to be “newly”
discovered by our offspring In the form of “experiences that taught them
As I look back over the last
43 years that have passed since the end of the Second Vatican Council, I
am aware of countless seeds sown in Ecumenical circles throughout the
world as well as in the hearts of my sisters and brothers in the
Catholic Church that seem to have been wasted.
So many of us felt something
inside us catch hold of that seed, tend it an nurture it, and watch it
grow into a whole wheat field inside us. But as we look out over the
larger field we call the Church, what happened to all that seed? Where
did it go?
Some of it did wither and die
during the long ascendancy of reactionary forces under John Paul the
Second. And a good deal of it grew in the brambles of persecution and
was choked off early on when theologians developing various theologies
of liberation were denounced and silenced in the 80’s and 90’s.
And some of it lies dormant,
yet intact, in the quietly developing scholarship of theologians
yet-to-be-named and pastoral collaborations un-sanctioned and unseen
that continue to grow in countless ecumenical crevices such as this
one. These are being carefully tended and protected by people whose
eyes and ears have remained open to Spirit guidance in the fertile
Right here and right now we
are participating in one such miraculous and Spirit-guided collaborative
effort. Last night I, a Roman Catholic woman and a priest celebrated
Eucharist in your chapel. And today I am filling in for your wonderful
pastor who is on sabbatical. This is evidence of seeds growing in rich,
loamy soil and bearing fruit for the full communion of the People of
Today in Boston three more
women are being ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood. In April the
first U.S. woman was consecrated as a Roman Catholic Bishop.
The seeds of Vatican II are
out there, the seeds of spiritual renewal and Christian unity—the seed
of the future, seed of hope, seed of change, seed of transformation.
It is so easy to become
impatient, to give up hope that the seed will ever amount to anything!
But the beauty of this
foundational parable—this parable that if we get it, we’ve gotten the
message—is that the crop from that seemingly insignificant amount of
growing seed will top all expectations. Farmer God is telling us that
the yields will be in excess of 30, 60 or 100 times what we would
naturally believe possible.
So take this to heart. Keep
tending those inner wheat fields of your own, and look for signs of them
in others. Every time you see or hear that some of those seeds are
being crushed or seedlings burned to a crisp, remember that no one can
destroy the over arching harvest because THAT is in Farmer God’s hands
and the abundant harvest is assured.
Keep faith. Know the truth of
the Kingdom of God. And take to heart the message of this parable.
Look for God’s seed everywhere—because it’s there and the harvest will
be beyond our wildest expectations.