Sermon: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Text: Matthew 13:1-23
The parable of the Sower is one of the classical parables of the synoptic Gospels, but how well do we really know our parables – how often do we allow them to wash over us.
Most interpretations of this parable identify that it is a call to proper hearing – “Listen, anyone who has ears” hearing the word of God and acting upon it, not just hearing the words of the parable story, but digging into the parable and unearthing its true meaning: truth about the kingdom of heaven, the nature of God and the relationship between God and mankind.
So hear it we must.
We have it in our mental image of these stories that Christ was speaking to a largely ill-educated, peasant people: rough country folk for whom an example of sowing would be readily understood. But Matthew places this parable in Capernaum, a city of about 1500 people which is large by New Testament standards: these people are urban, and therefore not necessarily peasant peoples.
In the same way in other parables, Christ challenges his audience with talk of Shepherds – not because devout Jews would identify with them, but because they were pariahs – rough people who had to break the Sabbath to look after their sheep. Asking a pious congregation to think like Shepherds would be like asking a modern, respectable congregation (like yourselves) to think of God found amongst Drug Addicts and Prostitutes (where, of course, he is to be found in reality). Christ comes not to back up our prejudices, but to challenge us and so it is with the use of a farming metaphor for a sophisticated audience.
God’s word is spread far and wide: indiscriminately. The word is spread regardless of whether the soil who receives it is prepared to receive it. In fact, God the Sower appears to appreciate that some of this work will be wasted – but he does it just the same. Christ recognised that many would not follow his ‘hard sayings’, but he did it just the same, and continued through to his passion and death with the same conviction.
I recently read an article on “the failure of youth work” which spoke of the poor return on investment in youth work – time effort and money which puts only a few more bottoms on the uncomfortable pews of the church. It actually did not seek to discourage those who were engaged in coming alongside young people, but to remind them that not everything we do has to be an unqualified success, that people – of all ages – drift in and out of Church, of paying their way and gift-aiding, of being present and being absent.
The bottom-line message was that it was okay to work with this tension, okay to try and to fail, okay to be experimental and that God’s values are not necessarily ours. It is our role – all of us – to spread the seed of God’s word far and wide, and see what sprouts.
If we take discipleship seriously, we will be prepared to take that seed and scatter. This means that we must look beyond our present and into the future, be prepared to invest in somethings which may have negligible impact on the number of people at mass: youth work is a classic example of what I am thinking of. But we should not think of the short-term, but of the investment in people’s lives, and their walk with God. This may be at the expense of a few gift-aid envelopes, but it is an investment I feel we are called my God to make. If we are not prepared to scatter, then we will die.
The parable of the sower is a model for mission – a reminder that we must continue to spread the word of God far and wide amongst this community, regardless of how it is being received. In my dark nights, when I am discouraged, this passage serves as an inspiration. The Sower boldly sows, and so we must boldly sow our mission work in this parish, for only then will we be able to reap that rich harvest.