Fields of Grace

picjumbo.com_IMG_9998It’s often called The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23), but rarely does someone really talk about the sower. It’s always about the soils. That’s understandable, because even Jesus himself, when giving his disciples the interpretation (vs. 18-23), talked about the different types of soils—rocky soil, thorny soil, hard-packed soil, and good soil.

So it’s definitely about the soils. But I think it’s about the farmer who sows the seed as well.

The typical explanation of the parable goes something like this. This farmer goes out to sow, and he starts flinging seed everywhere. This is how they did it in those days, we’re told. The farmer just walked through his field flinging seed rather wantonly, just flinging it hither and yon. Some landed on the path, where it was so hard-packed that it just bounced a couple of times and then lay there on the surface, where the birds came and ate it.

Some landed on rocky soil that didn’t have much topsoil. The roots couldn’t go deep, so when it got hot and the rains weren’t as plentiful, the shallow roots couldn’t reach deep where moisture was protected from evaporation, and the plant withered in the sun.

Some landed among the thorns, where the young seedlings couldn’t compete for water and sunlight with the more established thorn-bushes, and they died.

But some landed on good soil, and from that the farmer got his harvest.

That’s how they did it in those days. Just scatter seed and hope for the best.

That’s how they did it in those days? Really? I have a feeling that farmers in those days weren’t that careless.

I’ve tried to do some research on farming practices in 1st century Israel, and I haven’t been able to come up with much. I’ve not seen anything that says that farmers just walked around flinging seed, not worrying that a lot of the seed is landing in places where it will never produce a crop.

What I have found suggests that such carelessness wasn’t characteristic. They had plows after all, which means that they dug furrows, which means that even in the good soil there was a place to put the seed and a place not to put the seed. Even if they sowed first and plowed second in order to bury the seed, it suggests some thoughtfulness to the process.

On hilly ground they created level terraces. That’s not only a lot of work, but a terrace clearly delineates where to sow. I can’t imagine that they would make a terrace and wouldn’t keep thorn bushes from growing in them, or that they would run a path through the terrace rather than around it. That doesn’t make sense.

It seems to me this farmer and his method of sowing is a bit unusual, and maybe that’s the point. After all, this parable isn’t about agricultural practices, it’s about the message of the kingdom of God: who receives it and who doesn’t, who is in and who is out.

And when you put it in those terms, the standard message of the day was that God was very particular about who is in and who is out. He is very selective in who gets seed and who doesn’t.

He gave the Torah to Israel, after all, not to anyone else. He didn’t go around passing out copies of the Ten Commandments to the Hittites, the Philistines, the Greeks, Romans, Syrians or anyone else.

No, being the smart farmer he is, God carefully cultivated a field named Israel and gave the Torah to Moses. God didn’t waste any precious seed on any rocky or thorny or beaten-down soils. Just good soil, and everyone knew who that was.

Jesus is presenting a different kind of God, one who flings his grace around rather wantonly, just chucking it around like he’s got plenty to spare, which of course he does, and not caring where it lands.

Or, more precisely, not caring that it lands outside our neatly cultivated rows in our carefully laid-out fields, whether it be our cultivated doctrinal positions or our carefully laid-out churches.

This is a God who knows that good soil isn’t restricted to one nation or one ethnic group or one gender or one political party or one denomination; and that in each of these there is also rocky, thorny, and hard-packed soil.

Maybe in each of us.

So rather than carefully doling out grace, it’s better to just fling it, because who knows? God’s grace, love, and goodness can never run out, so why be so selective? So he’s not.

He’s a God who sows the seeds of grace and love and goodness without regard to waste or worthiness, and who calls on all of us to do the same.

Picture: Dreamy Grain Fields by Viktor Hanacek

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