The sower and the seed

Matthew 13:1-9


When we read stories to children, they don’t have to be very old before they know that you have to wait for the end, and that it will be alright, or even more than alright.  The owl babies’ mother does come back.  The little bear who is scared of the dark does fall asleep.  Even the over-excited Boris manages to redeem himself by scaring off the big dog in the park.  Children know that even though bad things happen in a story, you just have to wait tor the end and it will be alright, wonderful even.


So, with a child’s eyes this parable is a story about a fabulous harvest, beyond dreams, bread for everyone and full tummies.  The right response is to cheer and rejoice, to prepare the barns for storing, the ovens for baking, and the house for a party.  Gobbling birds, scorching suns, and strangling thistles are all scary in the moment, but now they can all be forgotten.


But, when we read this parable, especially if we also read the explanations added to the text by the early church, it can all become rather depressing.  It’s difficult to stop thinking about all the things that can go wrong with our lives, leaving us feeling shallow or in danger, guilty and inadequate.


All too easily we can accuse ourselves of not being rooted enough in the faith, or of being eaten up by life, and for some there are days when we can feel exposed and vulnerable to all sorts of dangers.  By the time we get to the bit about the harvest, many of us miss the ending, having convinced ourselves that bit is about somebody else, and not us.  That bit can even pass us by.  We can be feeling rocky, thorny, strangled, and guilty – and not ready to rejoice at all.  But didn’t Jesus come to bring good news?  I don`t think that Jesus was one of those preachers who gets a kind of thrill from telling people how awful they are and how depressing the world is.  It’s easy to turn this parable into one of those familiar stories of how pathetic we all are, but that can`t be all there is to say.  If we find ourselves doing that, we can try to learn again how to read this story, and all sorts of other stories, too.  We do well if we can avoid the depressing and moralising interpretation of this parable which many of us have learned and got rather used to.  Too often we’ve been diverted from hearing the ending about the amazing harvest because by the time we get there we’re too depressed for it!


Perhaps Jesus’ story is telling us that just as it’s astonishing that anything ever grows at all, and that almost every harvest when it comes is utterly miraculous, so it is with life, and with life with God.  Things do go wrong with our lives.  We humans have a profound tendency to mess things up, and we do get gobbled up by life – these things are indisputably true.  But, even so, life has a way of giving us more than we ever deserve or expect.  It’s a bit sad, then, if we linger too long on the early part of the story and miss the harvest at the end.  We may not believe it’s possible, but, says Jesus, it is possible and indeed it’s even all but inevitable.  If it’s anything, the message of this parable is surely that Jesus is honest about the way life is, often grim and throttling us and with so much that’s wasted.  But the parable is also resolute about what, despite all, God is doing.  So we shouldn’t get stuck, either as readers or as those who live in this world, with the first part of the story, but live for the ending, in the sense that we almost can’t wait for the final line.  There is grace and life and fullness – there really is – no matter how much your life feels like a disaster in a particular moment or just now.


Of course children are dealing with the realities of life when they hear stories too.  They know what it’s like to feel afraid when your mother has gone.  They know what it is be afraid of the dark or of the dog in the park.  These are real experiences and are sometimes overwhelming.  But the good news is that, even when these things are at their most real, they are not the end of the story.  The end of the story is something else.  It really is.

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