Pentecost 6 A: Enough!

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Dear Partner in Preaching,

Whether we know it or not, most of us have been deeply shaped by Joachim Jeremias when it comes to reading this parable. You remember Jeremias, the German New Testament scholar who was so gifted at isolating the different literary forms and genres employed by the Evangelists to help guide our interpretations of their work? Well, whether you remember him or not, you’ve probably been influenced by him and, particularly, by his seminal work, The Parables of Jesus. 🙂

When it comes to this parable, Jeremias points out the distinct difference in tone and content between the parable “proper” about the “sower who went out to sow” (Mt. 13:1-9) and the interpretation Jesus provides the disciples about the different kinds of soil that received the sowers’ seed (Mt. 13:18-23). And that, in a nutshell, was precisely Jeremias’ point: there is a major shift in focus from the sower to the soil in these two parts of our reading.

The parable itself describes a sower who is ridiculously generous with the amount of seed he scatters, throwing it not only on the good soil but on soil that even non-farmers like most of us can recognize weren’t good bets: thorny soil, dry soil, and even a beaten path. I mean, what are the chances the seed is going to take root in that? Which makes this sower not simply generous but wasteful. Seed was not cheap in the ancient world, and everyone who listened to Jesus’ parable would have recognized the sheer wastefulness, recklessness, even stupidity, of such an approach to farming.

Yet when we get to Jesus’ interpretation, the generosity/wastefulness of the sower and the amazing abundance of seed isn’t even mentioned. Instead, the focus has shifted entirely to the soil, drawing an analogy between the different qualities of soil and different kinds of believers. The implication seems relatively clear: we should pray and strive, to borrow the words of Handt Hanson’s lovely and simple hymn, to “Let my heart be good soil.”

Interestingly, Jeremias believed the parable itself was probably original to Jesus and emphasized this amazing and abundant grace as characteristic of the Kingdom of God, whereas the interpretation was a different literary form and most likely a creation of the Evangelists to apply this parable to their own situation where believers were struggling to hang on to their faith. The parable, then, was proclamation of unending grace, whereas the interpretation was encouragement to persevere. Ever since, many of us have felt the need to “pick a side” and preach either the first half or the second.

But I wonder: might we recognize a) that our folks need encouragement – after all, “let my heart be good soil” is a pretty consistently relevant prayer – but also b) that finally if there wasn’t a sower who sowed generously, abundantly, even wastefully it really wouldn’t matter what kind of soil our hearts are?

And this is what strikes me just this week. We live at a time and place where we often feel like there is just never enough: not enough money, or clean water, or fresh air, or fuel, or security, or happiness, or prestige or… well, you name it. Sometimes this feeling comes from the ads we watch (or are subjected to) via television, radio, and the internet, ads that strive to create in us a sense of lack and inadequacy that the particular product being advertised can fill. And sometimes this feeling comes from politicians who, whether hailing from the left, right, or middle, follow a similar strategy by naming what is wrong, what is lacking, what we should fear, and then offering themselves as the solution to our problems. While this strategy is effective for both advertisers and politicians, it has the effect of creating in us a profound sense of scarcity and inadequacy, eventually making us believe not only that we do not have enough but ultimately are not enough.

Which is why this story of a sower – and by extension God – who scatters seed on all kinds of soil means so much to me and might mean so much to our people. God does not hold back. God is not worried about whether there will be enough seed or grace or love. God may want our hearts to be good soil but nevertheless hurls a ridiculous amount of seed even on dry, thorny, or beaten soil. Goodness, but you get the feeling this God would probably scatter seed-love-mercy-grace on a parking lot! Why, because there is enough! And, ultimately, because God believes we are enough. Enough to save ourselves? No. Enough to deserve love, dignity and respect? Absolutely.

God loves us just as we are and so regards us as worthy of being showered with grace. Loving us as we are is not, of course, the same as being content with where we are. In fact, precisely because God loves us God wants us to discover the abundant life of trust in God and love of and service to our neighbor. Precisely because God loves us, God wants us to stand against the fear and scarcity that drive prejudice, racism, greed, and violence. Precisely because God loves us, God wants to strive for the equality and dignity of all people. Precisely because God loves us, God wants us to share what we have generously so all will have enough food and shelter. Precisely because God loves us, that is, God wants us to grow into the people God knows we can be.

But the fundamental and unifying element in all of God’s hopes for us is that they all spring from God’s unconditional, even reckless, love for and acceptance of us right here, right now, just as we are. There is enough. You are enough. God will never give up on us. God’s love is unending. Period.

Or, maybe better: You are enough. God will never give up on us. God’s love is unending. Let anyone with ears listen!

Thank you for your proclamation of God’s more-than-sufficient grace and love, Dear Partner. Your folks are grateful for and blessed by your ministry.

Yours in Christ,