Last week I was asked to give a reflection to a small group of people at a midweek service of Communion about the parable of the Sower. It was a job that seemed like it would be easy at first, but the longer I looked at it, the less clear it became. It is a parable so famous, so thoroughly taught in Sunday Schools throughout generations that most of us could recount the story from early childhood. Such a well-known story accompanied an unprecedented explanation about the components from Jesus leaves us at risk of accepting it as simple, and feeling rather superior at the reaction of the seemingly dull disciples. So I’ll start with a question that we ask in our Sunday morning programme for young people when we tell this it:
I wonder where you see yourself in this story?
This is an important question when we look at stories, because the answer is inevitably one reason that we feel so strongly about them. A story can captivate us completely when we can see ourselves in it, imagine new possibilities and fantastical alternate realities. On the other side, a story we cannot relate to at all can leave us feeling angry, dissatisfied, even disgusted by what we’ve heard or read. Certainly it is not easy for most people to learn from a story in which we see no trace of ourselves.
So in this, one of the first stories that Jesus told, one of the most famous parables in the Gospels, where do you see yourself?
The answer to this question may change from day to day or even hour to hour depending on the challenges ahead of us. Jesus makes fairly clear that the seed is the Word, Jesus himself, the Good News. Throughout my life, at various times I’ve believed I was supposed to be the Sower along with the rest of the Church, living our evangelistic mission of sharing Jesus with the unreached world. Looking at it with slightly older eyes, I find God in the Sower, who sent Jesus into the world all of its various soils. God did not need our help to send Jesus or decide his work in the world, and Jesus is not ours to command or bend as we wish, to wave like a sword at those who are not like us. Jesus is ours to adore and to share and to point to with our whole lives, which leaves to us the only realistic option: we, the children of God alongside all the people of the world, are the dirt of this story.
Surely, though, we are the good soil! The ones in whom the seed of the Gospel has taken deep root, the ones who multiply thirty, sixty, one hundred times. We are the ones searching for answers, seeking biblical truth, digging deeper. Surely this is a sign that at the very least we are the right kind of dirt!
And yet, as I look at my life, it would be disingenuous to describe myself as singularly good soil. At many times I have been the road, knowing the Truth and letting it be snatched from me by deceits I find easier to believe. I have been the rocky soil; excited but rootless or feeling unsupported, searching for something or someone more to help, to validate, to guide. I have often been the thorny ground; on fire for my faith at the start of the day, and yet over time choked by anxiety about the future, money, career, whether my child is thriving, whether I am good enough.
Sometimes the power of a story isn’t in finding ourselves in the strongest character, but finding ourselves in the weakest. The Sower shared the seed with soil of every kind, regardless of how it looked or whether it seemed perfectly suited to receiving it. The Word is not just for the perfect, the saintly, the positively pharisaical; as Jesus reminded his followers, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mark 2:17).
So I’ll ask you again. Where do you see yourself in this story? If we see it, not as prescriptive command that “you had better be the good soil,” but instead as a description of the real challenges of accepting the Kingdom of God in the depths and chaos of our lives, where might you find yourself this week? And how might God want to speak to those places in your heart, where you find fear, obstacles, burnout or lack of support?
Today may we listen, and let God speak to the thorns and rocks and snatching birds of our hearts. May we hear the truth of the Word and the hope of the Kingdom of God in those moments, and may we remember that ours is the God who scattered the Word on every soil, who was eager for Jesus to touch every part of our lives and every circumstance we find ourselves in.