I’m not as comfortable with dirt as perhaps I should be. My years painting with my father did nothing to help; I hated, just hated, squeezing myself behind shrubs to paint a window or cleaning the buggy grime off of foundations. Bugs, worms, decaying plant life, none of these things appeal to me in the least, and so when I arrived here and found out that Lisa Jones’ email starts with “plays-in-dirt,” I thought I might just get out of having to play in the dirt myself. God bless Lisa, she has done so many great things around the church and rectory, but with the passing of time and the changing of marital status, the expectations of what the grounds around the rectory look like have also changed. Doan, God bless her, has done the majority of the work, but I have had to become, as I see it, overly familiar with dirt, with mulch, with the living creatures big and small and creepy and crawly that surround the house. I trust St. Francis is looking down on me with a sly smile on his face.
“Behold, a sower went out to sow.” I have a new appreciation for this parable, or maybe a new appreciation for the sower. But then again, the sower in this parable, this farmer out sowing the seed, is not the best farmer. He is less than efficient in his planting of the seed. Any farmers in Jesus’ original audience would have been going out of there minds hearing this parable. “Today we might have the same reaction if we heard a story about a farmer who hooked up his planter to the back of his John Deere, started up the tractor, but then threw the PTO switch to activate the planter even before he was out of his driveway. There he is putt-putting down the country lane with corn seed scattering everywhere as he goes. It bounces on the road, some flies into the ditch. When he finally gets near his field, he first has to cut through a weedy and thorny patch with corn seed still flying out loosey-goosey from that planter that, by all rights, had been switched on way too early.”1
The farmer in this parable sounds a little nuts; he sounds like the agrarian equivalent of Mr. Magoo, refusing to acknowledge his near-sightedness, saved only by dumb luck and his faithful dog McBarker. Taking the parable as it stands, you might think that either farming in Roman Palestine was horribly backward or Jesus didn’t know much about farming. But we know different; the farmers of the time were excellent and careful, and Jesus is, well, Jesus.
So what’s the deal? Why did Jesus tell a story about a farmer who seems so unlike normal farmers? A farmer who has, presumably, done all the work farmers usually do, tilling the soil and picking up all the rocks, fertilizing the fields and feeding the oxen, why would Jesus’ farmer go through all that trouble to just throw his hard-won seed on the sidewalk and into the weeds?
Why would this farmer do that? Because that farmer is acting like God. No, God is not a cosmic, divine, Mr. Magoo-like gentleman farmer. But He is, let’s say, less than frugal, less than careful about where the seeds of His Gospel are thrown. Those seeds of the Gospel, they are everywhere, and no two seeds look alike. One seed may look like a fine cathedral on Amsterdam Avenue while another looks like soup kitchen run out of the back of a broken down moving van. One seed might look like the Archbishop of Canterbury proclaiming a blessing at Westminster, while another might look like an elderly layman bringing free coffee to the hookers on the corner of 12th and Massachusetts Northwest.
The point is, God loves His gardens and He did a fabulous job creating our beautiful world. We have done our best to tear down that garden, to choke out what is lovely with the thorns of sin, to trade the flower for the chaff, but when God looks down upon what is left of His garden, He can’t help but get to planting the Gospel.
That Gospel, the good news that is Jesus Christ, He sat down in a boat one day to talk to the crowds that followed Him around. He looked out and saw their faces, their eyes waiting for Him to say anything that might bring them hope. He looked out and peered into their hearts; He saw hard hearts, shallow hearts, He saw thorny hearts and He saw good, pure hearts. Jesus looked out onto where He could spread the seed of the Gospel, and He said, “Let me tell you a story about a farmer…”
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.