These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.’
When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
Scripture quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
By Joe, a Lay Reader at St Mary's.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Being literate is a great boon, being literal can be something of a mixed blessing. We’re probably all aware of the ‘Biblical Literalists’ who take everything in the Bible literally, whereas it’s likely that whilst some scripture is historically factual, there is also much that is metaphorical, or dealing with symbols and ways of expression that people of the time when it was written would understand.
It's a bit like when my mum used to tell me ‘I’ll be there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail’; lamb’s do indeed shake their tails vigorously, and there was no way that my mother would get from wherever she was to me in such a short length of time. But the meaning, whilst not literally true, was meaningful enough for me to know that she would be with me quickly.
In the New Testament the teaching form that we know as the Parable is used to good effect. This would be something that the Jewish people would be aware of and expect from their teachers; teaching would be done through stories, and the mixture of literal truth and symbolic meaning would be pored over by the students and other teachers to extract the points that the teacher was trying to make. Jesus does much of his teaching in the form of parables. And occasionally – like in ‘The Parable of the sower’ – He enlightens us with the meaning.
Which, you would be perfectly right to say, means that my job as a preacher becomes a little easier when I preach on this parable. After all, the heavy lifting – the ‘exegesis’, the process of drawing meaning from the parable – has been done.
Or has it?
Like many of Christ’s parables, I get slightly sweaty and paranoid when I read this. Am I stony ground? Am I a briar patch? Am I shallow soil? Am I – please God, let me be this - good soil that will return a harvest to the sower? Go on, admit it; how many of you feel the same?
And that is something to consider – part of our personal learning process from listening to the parable. But, when we read Jesus’s explanation, we realise that if this were all there was to be gotten from it, it would be called ‘The parable of the soils’ or something similar.
It isn’t; it’s called the parable of the sower.
So let’s shift our mental model a bit; let’s stop getting nervous and paranoid and worrying about what sort of agricultural growth medium we are, and let’s focus on ‘The sower’.
Who is the sower? Good question. To get the answer we need to look at what is being sowed. What is the seed that is sown – that grows or fails to thrive?
The seeds are the Word of God – the Gospel, the teachings of Christ. Look what is said in Verse 19 – the first line of the explanation:
“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it….”
The sower is casting the word of the kingdom in to the hearts and minds of all who are within earshot. The comparison of the hearts of those hearing the Word to different types of land would be something that people from an agrarian economy could get their heads around. They’d know how difficult it is to grow crops in certain types of soil, and so as a teaching model it’s a good one for Jesus to use.
You can imagine that if you had valuable seed that you wished to grow in to a good crop, with as high a return on your efforts as possible, you’d make some preparations. You’d plough up those brambles and briars to start with. Where the soil’s a bit thin you might spend time preparing it. The really rough areas of your land – well, you’d just leave them to the wild animals. And the good soil – well, you’d certainly be focusing your efforts on the parts of your land you know to be fertile. There the stakes are high – anywhere between 30 and 100 fold return! I’m pretty sure that most of us would focus our efforts there, and especially on that high yielding corner.
But this Sower takes a rather different approach to most farmers.
This Sower – our Lord – takes the most valuable seed there is – the Word of God – and casts it with no concern for where the seed landed. He throws it out generously, showering abundant opportunity for growth on all these soils – on every circumstance of human heart and mind, knowing that in some cases there will be little or no return. But the Word has been generously and openly given; it’s not something available to only the ‘good of heart and mind’ or those with special knowledge and gifts to make the Word of God grow and be fruitful within them. It’s available to everyone.
Of course – not everyone is in a place where the seed can actually take root and grow.
And this maybe for a lifetime, or a season in our lives.
But the generosity of the Sower is such that the seed will always be cast. The Word of God is always open to us – wherever we are, whatever our state of mind. Whether we’re in a barren period of our lives, or whether we’re so buried under concerns that we don’t have time for it. But the seed is there; the sower has cast it; it has not been with-held because you’re unworthy, that the seed wouldn’t grow in you. The seed falls, and when a season comes when you will be able to provide a place of growth for the Word of God, the seed will be there for you.
And if the seed takes root and grows strong, what then?
You’re blessed with the Word and all that goes with it.
And there is a return expected of you; remember what was said?
“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
What’s done with all that seed that is returned?
It can be gathered up, and sown.
Perhaps some of it may be sown by you. In recent months I’ve found myself wondering whether I am serving God properly? Am I bringing the word to people who need to hear it? I have a little seed of my own, given by God, to sow. I need to be generous with it – as do we all. We need to do what we can to spread the Word – we don’t know where the seed will land, who will respond, who will not respond.
But we know the Sower who has taught us. We know that we should sow the Word of God generously, with no thought of what the return will be. That is not our job; our job is to sow. There is a saying, usually mis-attributed to St Francis – “Preach the Gospel; use words only when necessary”. We can sow the seed of the Word of God by our words, our deeds, our generosity of spirit and our love for all creation at this time.
Prepared by Siobhan Hoyes adapted from acireland - https://acireland.ie/
In today’s gospel we are reminded that God is a generous sower of seeds in our lives. We pray that the seeds of love and wisdom bestowed on us will fall on fertile ground and that our lives are fruitful. We pray for your church throughout the world, especially our mission partnership. May the clergy and worship teams be gifted with wisdom as they discern the best to proceed safely to welcome people back into the church. We pray seeds be sown which will strengthen working together, so we might deepen our relationship with God, each other and our communities.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
We pray for Governments and decision makers here and across the world. May they be mindful of their responsibilities for the poor, marginalised, homeless and those who are in most need. We pray for everyone experiencing job insecurity and an uncertain future at this time, that in their difficulties they may receive a share of the bounties of the earth gifted by our creator God. We remember the many charities, who depend on fund raising activities to continue their valuable work. May they find new and fruitful ways of generating much needed funds.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
We thank a God for our health service, our hospices, nursing homes and for all those who work in the community to care for the sick. Bless all the doctors, nurses, hospital and community staff who have supported people during these challenging times. Thank you for the flexibility and adaptability many staff have shown as they have stepped into new roles to provide holistic care. Help them to feel affirmed in their work, to celebrate close team work and new skills acquired. May staff be offered appropriate psychological support in the coming months, so they can reflect on, and process any difficult experiences they have encountered.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
We pray for all who are sick at this time both at home and in hospital. May they be strengthened and sustained by your loving presence and grace. We remember those affected by Covid, who after the acute phase of illness continue to experience a range of symptoms, breathlessness, fatigue, and emotional distress. May therapeutic and rehabilitation input be recognised as important, so people receive the ongoing support they need.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
We pray for families that are bereaved. Let us remember their loss and show genuine empathy for their broken hearts. Let us show kindness and compassion to their needs and travel beside them on their journey through grief.
We remember those known to us who have died, may they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Let us pray for a moment for our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers.
Gracious God, grant us the grace to nurture the seeds of wisdom you grant us that we might be fruitful servants in this earthly harvest.