I positioned myself at the entrance on Clark, and there were lots of people coming and going. I held out my first postcard to hand it to a 20 something young man who was carrying his bike helmet, but he gestured with the hand nearest me, and said, “no thanks,” and veered away. What? You’re my ideal target, I thought! But, more were coming and going all the time, and there were about as many takers as those who ignored me or otherwise failed to be “good soil” for my project. I knew that I didn’t have to target bikers alone, that anybody could donate to Care For Real, our Edgewater food and clothing pantry, even those who had never ridden a bike. And just then, an older woman in a wheel chair gladly took one, and received it as her personal invitation!
So I “scattered” the postcards far and wide, to everyone who reached out to accept, young and old, black, white, yellow and brown, rich and poor, some very eager, others somewhat skeptical, and those who mindlessly took one in mid-conversation not interested now – but perhaps later? One, after taking a quick glance, deposited it in the nearest garbage can, right in front of me. And more than one stopped and read the postcard on the spot, but returned it to me, and, in the Green Week theme, wanted it to be recycled and reused!
I had a couple of interesting conversations too. One gentleman, who took me for a biking expert, wanted to know a trustworthy bike shop. He had taken his bike in twice to get fixed and both times it broke down again days later! I told him about Igor our mechanic who’s coming next Sunday to do bike checks, but he was going to be out of town. So we talked about other bike shops I knew. He asked again about our Bike For Real event and, explaining how it worked, he promised to give it strong consideration. Would this seed grow?
For all my careful planning, I wasn’t sure any of it would help my success rate. So far I haven’t seen 30, much less 60 or a 100 people signing up for Bike For Real on our website. More like my message was choked, withered, and stolen!
Matthew sets this parable of the Sower in a prominent position in the gospel, making it the grand marshal in a parade of parables. It’s longer and more elaborate than most, especially when you include the allegorical explanation Jesus gives. And yet, Jesus’ parables are not about a neat and easy moral lesson. The meaning is not contained in the parable itself, as David McCracken says, but they work in and on us, to find either acceptance or rejection. Says McCracken: “Parables do not 'contain' knowledge; they cannot be understood as we understand a moral tale, an argument, or a statement. Parables precipitate internal action, forcing the hearer or reader [that’s you and I] to a crisis or collision that requires movement, which in New Testament terms is an either/or: either stumbling, or changing-and-becoming, …[and] being transformed.”
And so in search for the meaning, we find mostly questions. Who is the Sower in this parable? God? Jesus? Us? Is there some way that the good soil can be maximized? Prepared, or fertilized? Why is it that even the “good soil,” whatever that is, produces such differing results: 100, 60, or 30-fold? And why is it that mirroring these 3 bumper wheat crops are 3 other ways of failing to produce? So that, just as likely, the seed will be plucked up by the evil one? Or received well initially by those who get excited about God’s kingdom among us, but wither just as quickly when the excitement is over, not yet being well rooted in the holy and life-giving word? Or, most common perhaps, are the seeds who are choked out by all the world’s temptations to make it rich.
And does this parable then, ask us to work harder, be better? Barbara Brown Taylor describes this feeling best, I think: “...I had the same response I always do to this parable,” she says. “I started worrying about what kind of ground I was on with God. I started worrying about how many birds were in my field, how many rocks, how many thorns. I started worrying about how I could clean them all up, how I could turn myself into a well-tilled, well-weeded, well-fertilized field for the sowing of God’s word. I started worrying about how the odds were three to one against me … and I began thinking about how I could beat the odds, or at least improve on them, by cleaning up my act.”
Just so, for all my planning, for all my high hopes for scattering our postcard “seeds” for Bike For Real, for all the thought and work I put in preparing to distribute them, the response was pretty mediocre, and largely impossible to measure.
And yet, the Sower, I believe, is God sowing Jesus in our lives. And we are the various kinds of soils. Each of us, in fact, are various kinds of soils at various times in our lives. If at first we are hard, or rocky or thorny soil, we also might be good and fertile soil later on. And, I think, we are also called to be the Sower. We spread the message, postcard or otherwise, whenever we share who we are with family and friends, newcomers and strangers, and we risk a bit of who we are, the person God has called us to be, and the person that faith has shaped us into, not knowing for sure how we will be accepted! Hoping and praying that our ‘risk’ will come back 30 or 60 or even 100-fold to us, and for the good of the realm of God in God’s world, though realistic, it may just as often fail.
One thing for sure, God scatters the seed widely on every kind of soil. Surprisingly God doesn’t spend any time in soil preparation. God’s method is courageous and bountiful scattering, a free and grace-filled giving that never waits for the soil to be all prettied up or what we would consider as ready. God almost seems wasteful by our standards! But God is like that, never holding back, just as God doesn’t withhold the only begotten Son.
Can we do this? Can we be God’s agents of boundless indiscriminate grace-sowing? It entails rejections and failures, but also joy and surprising acceptance. Certainly, whenever we go out, we go in Jesus name.