Author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor considers her usual response to the parable of the Sower scattering seed on different types of ground. Click here to read the Gospel passage (Matthew 18–23).
I started worrying about what kind of ground I was on with God. I started worrying about how many birds were in my field, how many rocks, how many thorns. I started worrying about how I could clean them all up, how I could turn myself into a well-tilled, well-weeded, well-fertilized field for the sowing of God’s word. I started worrying about how the odds were three to one against me—those are the odds in the parable, after all—and I began thinking about how I could beat the odds . . . by cleaning up my act.
That is my usual response to this parable. I hear it as a challenge to be different, as a call to improve my life, so that if the same parable were ever told about me it would have a happier ending, with all of the seed falling on rich, fertile soil. But there is something wrong with that reading of the parable, because if that is what it is about, then it should be called the parable of the different kinds of ground.
Taylor asks whether our familiar interpretation may miss the more dramatic message of God’s radical grace:
Instead, it has been known for centuries as the parable of the Sower, which means there is a chance, just a chance, that we have got it all backwards. We hear the story and think it is a story about us, but what if we are wrong? What if it is not about us at all but about the sower? What if it is not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns but about the extravagance of a sower who does not seem to be fazed by such concerns, who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon, who feeds the birds, whistles at the rocks, picks his way through the thorns, shouts hallelujah at the good soil and just keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?
If this is really the parable of the Sower and not the parable of the different kinds of ground, then it begins to sound quite new. The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into his seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of his truth.
Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 25–26.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Cynthia Bourgeault on Jesus’ radical generosity and abundance.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Bexley Park (detail), used with permission. Claudia Retter, Oak and Moss (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images by Carrie Grace Littauer and Claudia Retter appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: Parables require us to take a second look. These images make us pause and wonder, “what is that, really?” Perhaps it’s my own shadow, responding from the subconscious with knee-jerk reactions and judgments.
Story from Our Community:
I am finding a lot of lived Truth in the Daily meditations. I am a 91-year-old man, and I’ve learned that it’s important to listen to your body. Listening to your body and to God are quite similar and require quieting the mind. Once you learn it is possible, listening is simple and easy. —Reed H.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.