One of the things that I enjoy about Stampede is the displays, particularly in the Agrium building. Learning where our food comes from. While it is no secret that I am not much of a gardener, I’d like to think that I’ve learned something about modern crop growing and harvesting. There is a lot of care and technology that has gone into it, and frankly the more we learn about the process the better.
I think it appropriate that today’s story is where Jesus tells the familiar parable of the sower. I think it’s appropriate that we are outside, sitting on the grass, in the sun listening to this story because that’s how Jesus told it. I think it’s appropriate because telling it out here gets us away from an analytical allegory to the visceral feelings that the parables were meant to inspire. We need to unlearn what we have learned, to borrow a phrase from Yoda when it comes to the Parables.
Jesus told people parables to give them a glimpse of the kingdom of God. Not by explaining it in some dull lecture, but by telling stories that would evoke powerful emotions and responses in the people.
So let’s back up a little bit. Down at the Agrium you can learn how farmers today use all kinds of technology to provide their crops with enormous yields. Yet in the time that Jesus lived, crop yields were much lower, about 1:5, barely above the minimum 1:3 ratio to sustain human life.
So let’s do the math: assuming one could expect five seeds in return for each seed planted in good soil. As soon as those seeds are harvested the farmer needs to set aside at least one out of every five to put back into the ground so that next year’s crop will be the same size as this one. This is assuming no disasters happen. The remaining four seeds are divided up between making bread and other food, and making sure the livestock is fed. There is none to sell. This is purely survival. Profit margin is not a factor. There’s no margin of error here either. If something goes wrong and the family has to dip into the stored up seed for planting it means there will be less and less each year.
If so few grains are returned for every one that is nurtured, the seeds are more precious than gold.
Now imagine we are in a group of first century farmers who know all this, who are now listening to Jesus tell this parable:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. As he sowed some seed fell on the path…”
“Oh come on!” we say, “Fix your bag!! You’re losing seed! Remember you only get five seeds back for each one you put in the ground. You’ve now cut that down to four!! Besides, what kind of aim is that!” Suddenly the 1:5 ratio is now down to 1:4.
Jesus continues, “Other seed fell on rocky ground…”
Again, the listeners are going nuts. This sower is going out into the field flinging these seeds here and there with no real idea or care where they’re landing. Precious seed is being wasted. The ratio is now down to 1:3, which is now at the absolute minimum for sustaining life.
The next handful is flung into the weeds. Nothing’s going to grow there, because weeds are so good at stealing the nutrients from other less hardy plants. The plant that grows will never produce anything. Another seed is wasted… but not only is it wasted, the crop yield has now dropped below the critical line. This is a recipe for starvation, even if that last bit of seed does land in good soil.
In our day of modern technology, we totally miss feeling horror at the sower’s careless attitude, scattering precious seed without a care for where, ensuring that three quarters of the seeds sown will never produce ANYTHING! If a single seed produces 5 maybe 6 grains, then the sower will barely break even, and will more than likely starve since there’s nothing to save for food. Someone who is planting seed cannot afford to be that sloppy!
But what happens to that last bit of seed that does land in good soil? Instead of producing the usual expected yield, something incredible happens. Instead of producing the expected yield after so many other seeds have been wasted, that seed produces a yield of thirty, sixty, or one hundred times itself would be astounding.
The marvel of the story is that in spite of the carelessness of the sower, the seed that does land in good soil, produces a crop beyond wildest imagination. What if the kingdom of God is like this?
What if the Kingdom of God is where great plenty and growth comes out of seemingly careless abandon? The joy of the kingdom of God happens despite our best efforts. God is quite capable of producing great abundance even where we would call it a total loss. So how would it be if we tried to put ourselves into the shoes of someone who was dirt poor and hungry in first century Galilee. The joy and wonder of the kingdom of God takes on a whole new meaning. Imagine… The kingdom of God is like a place where no one is hungry and all will be fed… amazing news to someone who is starving!!!
A place where no one is left out or left behind. God’s abundant love is for everyone, not just a select few. God’s love is not to be carefully rationed, but flung all over the place, because who knows what incredible things it may yield.