Pentecost 7, 2023

We come to one of the most familiar images of the NT and I believe one of the more misunderstood. Our pericope system has tried to help us see that by giving us Jesus’ words on rest immediately prior to this parable, but we still find a way to turn Jesus words into a burden for us. Now I have to be good dirt. How do I do that?

Jesus’ words, however, were intended not to burden us but to to unburden us, particularly in a day of declining parishes and a Christianity in some sort of retreat. In the second half of the first century it appears that Christianity started to gain enough momentum that it started drawing official attention on two fronts. Greco-Roman culture and occasionally Roman authorities were beginning to be suspicious of this movement among slaves. Social persecution was probably more common, but we know that Nero and Domitian put the power of the empire behind persecuting local Christian populations.

The persecution which Saul of Tarsus began intensified in the Jewish community until the Jewish Christians were expelled from the synagogues. We have a line from a synagogue sabbath ritual in which the synagogue attendees cursed anyone who followed the Nazarene, that dates to about 80 AD. That must have been intensely painful for the Jewish Christian community whose identity within family and nation was still deeply felt. Matthew seems to be writing to this Jewish Christian group, but Mark, writing to the gentile community, uses the same words of Jesus. It appears to have broad application. Taken as words of comfort to a community whose mission has seen a serious reversal makes this parable much clearer. The kingdom does not always work. It is good seed which is sown but sometimes, even most of the time, it does not take root and bear fruit. That is not on the sower. He sows good seed. This is simply the nature of the kingdom.

The message of the parable of the Sower for preachers and congregants alike seems to be that we should not take ourselves too seriously. We are sowers who cast good seed. Jesus tells us that sometimes it won’t work, in fact, most of the time it does not. We are coming off one of those moments of great kingdom fruitfulness. The post-war years were incredibly fruitful for the Christian movement in our land. But that was not a normal time and we cannot evaluate this time on the basis of that success.

Read the parable of the sower and know that Jesus is not judging you if your parish is not as big as it used to be. He is not blaming you for its decline. Sometimes the seed falls on hard, weedy, or stony ground. Keep sowing. It will fall on fruitful soil again. It is doing so in places around the world today.

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