I will never be able to hear the parable of the sower again, ever, without hearing John Gallen speak about it. He brought it up often in his homilies and spiritual talks, and it was always with a single message: it's about the Sower. We tend to focus on the various kinds of ground in the parable, but the thing is, the parable is about the reign of God—God is sowing it everywhere, and doesn't care where the seeds fall. The "lavish" Sower wants the earth to bring forth the grain, and tosses the seed everywhere so that it can have its day.
I rarely advocate for the short version of the scriptures, when two are offered, but I recommend to our presiders and deacons that we use the short version of the gospel for this Sunday, the parable of the sower. The short version is just the parable–it doesn't have the "explanation" of the parable attached. According to many scripture scholars, it is most likely that the explanation does not originate from Jesus but from the redactors or editors of the gospel The explanation of the parable narrows its field of meaning and even possibly gets us off track from the intent of Jesus, reducing it to an allegory. It is an important parable in the great schema because it appears in all three synoptics and the gospel of Thomas, with the Mark version probably being closest to the original. The parable focuses on the divine initiative and lavish gift of the reign of God; the explanation focuses on the response of the ground. One might argue - “hey, if I'm rocky ground, I was made that way.” Anyway, the parable itself is much more, well, parabolic, and allows us to concentrate on the important aspect: the reign of God is God's work, and it is being sown everywhere. Also, and perhaps more importantly, “failure, miracle, and normalcy” are all part of the way the kingdom operates. In the beautiful conclusion of Bernard Brandon Scott,
"In failure and everydayness lies the miracle of God's activity. The accidents of failure are not exploited for their possible moral overtones, but are coordinated with the harvest. The hearer who navigates within this triangle can experience God's ruling activity under the most unfamiliar guises, even among prostitutes and tax collectors–in the everyday... Both the ordinary and the unclean belong to the miracle of the kingdom. The kingdom does not need the moral perfection of the Torah nor the apocalyptic solution of overwhelming harvest." (Hear Then the Parable, Bernard Brandon Scott, © 1989 Fortress Press)May I just suggest, if you are looking for a terrific book on parables, one that will help get your mind clear of the moralistic and allegorical way we westerners hear them, get hold of Scott's book. It will see you through these Matthaean parables and the rest of them, and help put the parables back in the mouth of the Jewish storyteller who used them.
I love this section of Matthew, with its cluster of kingdom parables one after another, each one bringing new light and meaning to our search for the reign of God. It’s going to be a good month. Here’s what we’re singing Sunday:
Gathering: The Reign of God (Like Farmer's Field) is S. Delores Dufner OSB's beautiful hymn text paired with MCKEE, which most of us have sung forever with the words "In Christ There Is No East or West." It picks up images from several of the parables that we will hear over the next few weeks so bears repeating. It was not only a pleasant surprise that the editors of Gather Third Edition included it, but included it with two verses that I hadn't seen printed in missalette incarnations of the hymn.
You, you visit the earth; you make it fruitful, you make it bloom.We took the title song from the album we recorded that year, Stony Landscapes, from this song.
You, your rivers overflow, spilling to earth in the rain.
You call forth the grain.
To you belong the sowing and the harvest,
To you alone the rainfall and the sun.
We will praise your name,
You have staked your claim on the fierce and stony landscape
Of the human heart.
by Rory Cooney © 1993 GIA Publications
Preparation Rite: Open My Eyes (Manibusan) Jesse's well-known little gem of a song helps us to see, hear, and love in a new way. In the context of today's scripture proclamation, I hope it is a response to the invitation re-imagine the world in the reign of God.
Communion: Within the Reign of God (Haugen) One of Marty's many great communion songs, this one from his gospel musical based on Luke, The Feast of Life. The connection to this section of Matthew, with its cluster of kingdom parables, will, I hope, be obvious!
Closing: Walk in the Reign (octavo) I wrote this song for Advent in 1989, the beginning of a Matthew year, so I wanted to highlight the aspects of the emerging reign of God that appear in the advent Sundays, the familiar verses corresponding to the four Sunday of Advent, with a bridge employing the direct address to Bethlehem and its projected inferiority complex:
Bethlehem! You think you’re so smallBut Bethlehem is all of us who don’t think that God-with-us can really mean “us,” who don’t think that God can notice us with all our silly little issues and problems. Anyway, later that year I wrote a couple of verses so that we could sing the same song in the summer as we reflect on these parables and their meaning, and so I included them in the octavo. I love using “Walk” in the summertime, and singing these verses about the emerging reign of God:
That God doesn’t notice your children at all?
A sower is planting in acres unseen
The seeds of the future, the field of God’s dream.
Those meadows are humming, though none sees them rise:
The name of the sower is “God of surprise, the God of surprise.”
Oh, one day we’ll know them, the treasure, the pearl,
That capture our spirits and brighten our world.
We ache to possess them, the burden that frees:
The treasure of justice, the pearl of God’s peace, the pearl of God’s peace. ￼