Working the Land (A Reflection on the Parable of the Sower)

Today’s Gospel reading is the Parable of the Sower: God’s Kingdom is described as a farmer who spreads seed over his lands. He does this abundantly, even wastefully, casting it onto the rocks and roadside as much as on his fields. It’s a fascinating story because it presents a unique and perhaps surprising perspective on the question of divine justice.

Inequity is built into this parable but in a strange way: God’s message is given abundantly, but God knows that it will mostly fall on unreceptive ears and hearts. So if there is lack or scarcity in the story it’s on the side of the recipient, not the giver.

This is a little jarring; it’s not how we are used to looking at the world. And there are ways this could be interpreted in a problematic, victim-blaming sort of way. To help mitigate this, I’d like to look at this parable through the lens of recognizing what is in our control and what is out of our control.

If we imagine our hearts as a small plot of land, even say one or two square metres, the make-up of that plot is totally out of our control. It is our inheritance, the genetic and epigenetic, political, social, and cultural history handed down to us by our ancestors. For some of us, our plots are going to be filled with rich and fertile soil, ready to produce a great yield of good fruit for the Sower. Others of us may have good soil, but God’s seeds will have to compete with deeply-rooted thorns and thistles, distractions or delusions that confuse us and hinder our healthy spiritual development. Still others of us may have inherited poor soil, or stony soil, or even the hard-packed earth of a dirt road. If this seems unfair, it is. Our Scriptures tells us that the world was made to be good and beautiful, but now exists in a state of separation from God. And a world separated from God is always going to be deeply unfair.

And yet, even as we recognize that much of what we experience and even who we are is out of our control, we can’t lose sight of what is in our control. A plot of land full of weeds can be weeded. A plot full of stones can be rock-picked. Even a hard-packed road can, given enough time and a lot of work, be rehabilitated into workable soil.

If the point of our lives is to bear good fruit in and for the world, we have to accept the quality of the soil of our hearts as we’ve received it, and then ask ourselves how we can work that soil to make it more receptive to the seeds of God’s message so we can bear that abundant fruit.

The Good News in all this is that the good seed of God’s message for us and the world is spread abundantly. There is no scarcity of God’s love and grace for us and for our lives. God’s greening power is alive and well. Our hearts, like the whole earth, yearn to be whole and healthy and fertile. They were made to bear good spiritual fruit and are primed for it. Even if the plot we’ve been given isn’t great, we still have a lot going for us, and our efforts will be rewarded. But we need to do the work.

In a sense, it isn’t actually easier for those with good soil, because as Jesus taught, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required” (Lk 12.48). And as the Parable of the Widow’s Mite reminds us, even the smallest fruit is cause for great rejoicing in God’s Kingdom when it’s produced in poor conditions. The New Testament is consistent in its teaching that we aren’t responsible for what we’ve been given, but that we are most definitely responsible for what we do with it.

And so as we head into this week, may we all commit ourselves to doing the work, to working the soil of our hearts to be more receptive to God and thus bear the delicious and juicy spiritual fruit we’ve been called to produce.

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