The text for the sermon is taken from the Gospel: “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
It is a common misconception that Jesus spoke in parables because he wanted the people to understand his simple lessons. As Jesus tells us, he purposely hid the meaning of his teaching within parables. The Gospel of Matthew helps us understand why. In the early parts of Matthew, Jesus clearly teaches about the Kingdom of God and the expectations of living within that Kingdom. He does this in front of the crowds even, for example, on the Sermon on the Mount. But between that episode and the one given to us this morning, Matthew adds that some of the ruling class of Jews from Jerusalem—namely, some of the Pharisees and Saducees–have joined the crowds in order to catch Jesus. It is from that point that Jesus starts speaking in parables! And he does this, at his own admission, to obscure his identity from those who do not understand Him.
Throughout each of the Gospels, therefore, there is a tension between those who understand and those who do not. If we look at Mark, we see even the disciples struggling to understand the identity of Jesus. And if we look at John, we see outcasts completely understand His identity, like the woman at the well, but the chosen people, the Jews right around Jesus do not. In Matthew, the ruling class of Jews understand what Jesus says about His identity, they see his marvelous miracles, but then they also seek to kill Him because they reject his Divine Identity.
And so we come to the Gospel parable for this morning where Christ continues to reveal His identity and His kingdom in parables.
The Parable given to us is so familiar, that it is easy to miss it’s brilliant teaching. Jesus starts the parable with a sower going out to sow his seed. This is all perfectly normal, especially within a culture that is more agricultural than ours. But I want you to think more broadly, to realize that the subject matter of this parable reminds us of the very nature of God and our need of Him. To do that, we must go back to Garden of Eden, to that perfect time in which there was one Sower and one Gardener. God Himself was the sower as all the soil of the garden freely produced food for man. It was as if all the earth moved and turned for the sake of man—by the Word of God, all of creation gave man what he desired, because he desired God’s will. In turn, man helped the plants and animals, tended to them with care, but with leisurely care. Not with a sweat drenched, back aching care, but with a loving, almost tender care that resulted from the loving giftedness of Creation. As the Sower was the Creator and Sustainer of all things, so did all things freely produce for the gardener.
And yet this did not last as both man and woman accepted the twisted teachings of the serpent over their relationship with God—their lust brought forth sin, which in turn brought death. And immediately the decree went out: Cursed be the ground. Since then, the ground, left on its own, does not simply bear forth perfect food for mankind–and the rule of the earth has been: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” Adam and Eve desired to be like God, the Sower of all Creation, and so in turn, He allowed them their desire. Now mankind, ever reminded of his sin, has to sow. If we want food from the ground, we must weed and rake, plow and plant, compost and cut. Our civilizations have grown more and more sophisticated, but man still has to sow and work the ground for it to bring forth what we desire.
But God did not resign his role of Sower for man to squander. In this parable, God is again sowing seed–this time He is doing it to bring man back to Himself. In order to accomplish this, He actually gives Himself to man freely. Jesus tells us plainly that the seed in the parable is the word of God. So we understand that the seed is not just a thing, but Himself. The parable reveals to us the identity of Jesus, the one coming to accomplish the will of His father. God is giving Himself to the world.
To any farmer hearing this parable, the sower sounds like a very reckless farmer. Here he is casting precious seeds not on the fertile ground he has prepared, but all over, even on paths and soil he knows is rocky and infertile. God desires so much the life of His creation that he spreads His love recklessly. He is an extravagant lover, hoping to give life to even the most sun worn and trodden land. And, in fact, He sent His only Son to bring his Kingdom to earth. This is the mysterious and wonderful identity of Jesus.
We know this, of course, because Jesus told His disciples and we have received their witness. We see through the hidden metaphors and understand the truth. But as Jesus was careful to hid the meaning, now we must be careful that respond to the Truth well. WIthin the parable, the ground, of course, is our heart, open to receive the Word of God and living in that fruitful relationship or denying the Word of God that has been given. How do we know, then, that we have received the Word of God? This is what the parable shows us:
The first seeds land on the path and plucked right up by birds. It is not enough for us, then, to just know the name of Jesus. Satan is quick to take that away. Neither is it good enough to just believe in Jesus and “add” him to your life as if he is another trend to make your life more successful. There are no roots put down, reaching down to the “dearest freshness deep down things.” As soon as feelings change or moods switch, the Word of God is rejected. As Jesus says, “for a while [they] believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13). Other seeds grow up but are choked by weeds, which Jesus tells us are the cares and riches and pleasures of this world. The Word of God is put aside, losing the race amongst the competing worldly distractions.
These scenarios sound all too familiar, and perhaps we can think of others who fit into those categories. But, we should also be careful to examine our own lives, for this parable is not a diagnosis of the end but of the process, where we are right now. This parable is a warning that if we do not change our lives, if we do not exhibit the fruit of salvation, our salvation is not assured. And so we must seek after the conditions that create a fertile soil in which the Word of God will be fruitful. As one of Fr. Glenn’s old priest friend has said: God is not asking you to perform a miracle and change your life (thats self help). He is asking to let Him perform a miracle in your life. Christ says that the seed that falls in a good and honest heart will produce 30, 60, 100 fold! How, then, do we seek after a good and honest heart?
First off, God’s desire for us to change and follow Him is greater than our obstinacy—He will give you grace to grow after Him. The parable itself teaches us this. Second, seek after the ways in which God has promised to give Himself to us. God has bound Himself to give us gifts. He has bound Himself to baptism when we are incorporated into His Body. He has bound Himself to confirmation when he gives us the gifts of the Spirit. He has bound Himself to receive our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and return it as His own Body and Blood so that we receive the innumerable benefits of the same. And He has also bound Himself to the Absolution within the Sacrament of Confession where we can quiet our consciences, be free from all sin that binds us, the worldly temptations and cares, and cast ourselves onto His mercy. The goal, of course, is to open our hearts to the Word of God so that we may be the good ground, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.