“A sower went out to sow”
We know how the story goes: he sows the seed, there’s a swirl of birds, a blast of scorching sun, an explosion of thorns, and a rush of fruitful ears of wheat.
Well, of course not. In the real world, these things take time: months of time. The seed has to be sown in the right season, then it must germinate, grow and ripen, until at harvest time it can be gathered in.
The timescale we are working on is not that of hearing a parable, but of the changing seasons.
For people who are not personally involved with agriculture, it’s very easy to lose touch with the seasons – we all live fast and busy lives: sleep, eat, work, study, play, sleep. And this is especially true if we live, as most people do, in urban areas.
Until three years ago, I had lived in towns and cities all my life. In towns the main impact of the seasons can boil down to how easy it is to get around: spring brings potholes in the roads; summer, melting tarmac; autumn, leaves on the line; and winter, the obligatory half inch of snow to bring everything to a standstill.
This year, though, for the first time, I’ve managed to really live the seasons, and I’ve watched as fields turn from brown to green to golden and finally back to brown. Along with everyone else hereabouts, I anxiously watched for signs of rainfall earlier this year during the critical growing season, and like us all I’ve seen the combines working under floodlights late into the night to gather in the crop.
It has taken three years for the rhythm of the seasons to soak into me, and slow my perceptions down to the right speed, but I’ve gained a new appreciation of what it meant when a sower went out to sow.
Jesus helpfully explains this parable to his disciples: the seed is the word of God, sown in the minds of those who hear it. In some people’s lives, the seed grows and bears lots of fruit. In others’, for a range of reasons, it doesn’t get chance to grow, or gets crowded out by other things.
I don’t believe, though, that Jesus intended to exhaust the possibilities of the story with this one explanation. Most of his parables, it seems, he didn’t explain at all, and there is plenty more to take away from this one – several more twists to the tale.
First, what sort of wasteful farmer throws precious seed on the path, where it’s going to get walked on? What sort of lazy farmer fails to prepare the ground properly, and sows seed onto the rocks? What sort of unobservant farmer fails to notice that the crops are being choked by weeds, and do something about it?
The answer is ‘God’: this is how God deals with us – he so much wants us to hear the good news of his Kingdom, and accept it for ourselves, that he casts the seed as wide as possible. He knows that some of it, for different reasons, will not grow to bear fruit, but he would rather have that, than take the chance of missing anyone out.
A second twist is that we, rather than just being inanimate soil, have a choice about how we respond. We can choose to reject or forget God’s invitation, or we can choose to chase off the birds, put down roots despite the rocks, and pull up our own weeds. We can choose to bear the fruit which God wants for us, choose to stick with it for the long haul, despite any difficulties, and choose to make it the most important goal in our lives.
But we shouldn’t expect that any of it will necessarily be quick. Our culture has a desire for instant results. We have fast food when we’re out, and microwave ovens for when we’re at home. We hate waiting for anything – studies have shown that the most commonly pressed button in a lift is “door close”. Last month I bought this year’s first Christmas Mince pies … best before the tenth of October.
It’s the same when it comes to religion: we want our enlightenment and inner tranquillity, and we want it now!
But God doesn’t promise instant anything: his work in us is for the long haul, for the whole of our lives. We often need to slow our perceptions and expectations down if we want to see what God is doing, or might want to do in our lives.
A sower went out to sow, and if he could have reaped the next day, I’m sure he would have been very pleased, but it just doesn’t work like that. In real life, things take the time that they take.
For me, for example, It took 20 years between first considering whether I should pursue ordination, and actually doing something about it. You might say it took that long before I’d finally run out of excuses and avoidance tactics. Or perhaps a better perspective is that it took 20 years for that seed to grow, avoid the rocks and the weeds, and come to the time for harvest.
A sower went out to sow, but not just once, and this is a third twist. A farmer gets one chance a year to sow, but God is doing it continuously. God isn’t put off if the first time he sows a seed in our lives, it gets eaten by birds, or if the tenth time it gets choked by thorns.
God is endlessly patient with us, always ready to give sowing a seed one more chance. God is waiting for that season when the seed will find us to be good soil when we will hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance, the fruit God wants: faith, hope, love; joy, peace, patience, generosity, forgiveness and self-control.
In the real world, in the fields round here, harvest time is over for this year, and the work is now on preparing the soil for the sower to go out to sow once more, even if nowadays it’s in a tractor rather than on foot.
But in God’s economy any day can be harvest day, and any day can be the day for sowing. What seed is God sowing in your life today?