Revd Ian Whitley writes:
The Parable of the Sower
As I start today, I going to continue reflecting of the theme of change that seems to be so prevalent in society today, the talk of a new normal being found. It is interesting that phrase – new normal. This idea that we look at what we considered normal and re-imagine it. What does that mean for us as people of faith – wherever we are in our faith journey.
One aspect of our faith that is always worth re-visiting, re-imagining, is how we read scripture particularly those passages that are so well known to us that we feel that they have nothing new to say, that they are there as constants, non-changing – safe, solid foundations on which to build our house of faith. Yet when we do this we miss the new- normal that God is pushing us towards, and often that new normal isn’t something new at all but ancient wisdom that has been hidden under layers of teaching a passage in one way.
Todays gospel reading from Matthew 13 is one. I humbly submit, that could do with this sort of engagement, that sort of questioning. We all know it – The Parable of The Sower.
The standard, normal, accepted interpretation of this parable is Jesus used it to explain to his followers and the disciples how there are different responses to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. The sower in the parable is Jesus/God/Us (these are interchangeable start points that don’t really affect the following) and the seed is the word of God (both Jesus’s spoken word and today the Bible). The hard ground represents someone with a hardened heart full of sin that hears the word of God but does not accept it. Satan is able to keep this person from growing at all. The stony ground is someone who shows interest and awareness in the Gospel, yet his heart isn’t fully convicted so that when trouble comes to his faith is not strong enough to stand. The thorny ground is a person who receives the Gospel but who has many other idols and distractions in life – worries, riches, and lusts, which take over his mind and heart and he cannot grow in the truth of God’s Word. The good soil is someone who has heard and received the Word of God and allows it to take root and grow within his life. This person represents true salvation that bears good fruit.
Fairly standard interpretation that I am sure you have all heard versions of during sermons in church.
It is also worth remembering part of the reason why Jesus used parables to get his point over. By teaching with parables, Jesus was able to explain abstract ideas in a way that people throughout Judea could relate to. Not only did this help them make a connection between their everyday lives and spiritual truth, but it also gave these truths sticking power.
I believe, we now more than ever need to find a new normal in this passage, or possibly rediscover the what has been hidden away by good old doctrinally teaching.
Our traditional reading of this has meant that we have been become obsessed with sowing and growing – obsessed with saving more souls, with putting more bums on seats on a Sunday morning, with putting more names on St Peter’s guest list so we can pass through the pearly gates when die.
We concentrate on the good ground where we can get better results for the seeds we sow. Sharing our faith becomes a result driven game not a love lived life.
I said earlier that part of the reason Jesus used parables was because he could explain difficult concepts with stories that his audience would understand, yet he did so more much more than this. He told parables to critique the normal and point out a new normal – you’ve only got to look at the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son to see this. It is interesting, I think, that the Parable of The Sower is one of the few that Jesus explains, normally he would leave his disciples, leave those who had been listening to him tell his stories, to go away and work it out for themselves. What if he was saying this is the normal way to understand yet if you have been listening to what I have been teaching, if you have been looking at how I live my life then there is a new normal to be found. Jesus very rarely, if ever, talks about getting into heaven when we die, and Paul never ever writes about it. They both concentrate on how we live now. They continually talk about God’s dream of renewal and restoration and about how it starts now.
What if Jesus is saying stop concentrating on the good ground get working on path, in the rocks, amongst the weeds and the birds and work with me to transform them. This isn’t about changing people it is about changing the world in which we live, it’s about challenging unjust structures and systems, it is about walking along side those on the margins and listening to them about the birds and the weeds and the rocks that they have to contend with on a daily basis because then and only then will we start to see a new normal that is worth changing for.
I’m going to stop there as this is rapidly becoming sermon and not an opening reflection. I will leave you, like Jesus so often did to wrestle with this yourselves.