10 July 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
This Sunday’s gospel reading is one of those moments in the gospel narrative that makes us feel comfortable. We know the parable. We know Jesus’ explanation of the parable. We really don’t have to concentrate too hard because we just ‘get it’. Or do we? This Sunday’s gospel reading is the parable of the Sower. In our rural community there are many who understand how the sowing of seeds works. They understand the science (and the art) of planting the right seeds in the right soil in order that their profit might be maximized. In the same way, they know the parable of the sower is ‘just a story’ because of a couple of vital moments in the narrative. Every farmer knows that you don’t just throw seed around in an indiscriminate way. It is a precious commodity and every grain is important. Similarly, the talk of yields increasing by factors as large as thirty, or sixty, or even a hundred just cannot happen. In the ‘real’ world, a yield increase of just half of one percentage point would be seen as a major success story. Yes, this Sunday’s gospel reading is fine. It need not challenge us because we know the story, and we understand that it is just a story.
Of course, this attitude is completely wrong. This is a very important parable in Matthew’s gospel. This parable is about us, every one of us. We all fit into one of those categories of indiscriminately sown seed, and very few of us have the wisdom or the humility to discern where we really fit in the story. During the months of lockdown there have been many opportunities for us to reconsider how important our faith in Jesus Christ is in our lives. We have all been faced with challenges of various kinds. For some, the absence of public worship has been particularly difficult and the availability of simple on-line resources has been a profound spiritual lifeline. Not so for others. As someone said to me recently, I don’t need any of that stuff, I am in complete control of my own spiritual life. For some, the trials of being confined in what can be done and with whom has caused moments of profound doubt and uncertainty, whilst for others the mere existence of the coronavirus has been taken as ‘evidence’ that God cannot possibly exist. Wherever you stand in all of this, and in the many other issues raised by the pandemic, this Sunday’s gospel reading is for you. It is an invitation to think and pray about how you are using the soil in which you are planted. Are you doing ‘alright’, that is until something or someone challenges the cosy world you have created for yourself? Have you become totally dismissive of all that is positive in these strange times, because you know that cynicism is the best defence against disappointment? Have you been strangled by the weeds of despair? Or, are you remaining faithful to your engagement with scripture and prayer? Are you trying to draw every possible nutrient of faith from the situation in which you find yourself?
I would urge you, this Sunday, to take some time to engage with the parable of the Sower, and then to use that text as a template against which you can assess the health, the fitness and the abundance of your own faith. As we are constantly being told, this pandemic is going nowhere for a long time. One excellent way of taking stock and steering ourselves into a stronger spiritual place is to hear this Sunday’s gospel reading afresh, and not with the tired ears of familiarity and scepticism. Hear the words of Jesus and pray that you may truly be one of those in the good soil of this world. Then do your part in helping in Christ’s mission. Let all around you know that the good soil is a wonderful place to be, and then watch the harvest grow thirtyfold, or sixtyfold or even a hundredfold.
With every blessing to you all,