Imagine the writer of this gospel we call Matthew as a teacher. In this gospel is the Sermon on the Mount, a curriculum, if you will, teaching us, the followers of Jesus what following looks like. Then, the parables, beginning in chapter 13 with this one, and then many more to follow. Lastly, just before the story of Jesus’ passion, is the ethical teaching, when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was thirsty, you gave me drink, when I was a stranger, you welcomed me, when I was naked, you clothed me, when I was in prison, you visited me. And, as far as I’m concerned, the Sermon on the mount, and the ethical teaching, seem straightforward and fairly easy to understand. The parables are a different matter entirely. And, this gospel writer seems to list one parable after another, Jesus said this, and then this, and then this, all in a puzzle, or so it seems. We’ll be listening to them for a few weeks now, so how do we listen well?
The question we ask ourselves as we hear the parables from Matthew is this. What does the kingdom of heaven look like? Matthew, different from Mark and Luke, uses the words, kingdom of heaven, Mark and Luke give us kingdom of God, not too much different. But what Matthew may be imagining is a reality that God has begun and sustains, and that is already present, and it is also still to come. We are summoned to respond to God’s activity in our lives, and God in our midst, Jesus, by lives of profound and active righteousness, conduct focused in acts of mercy and hospitality. When we do, we enter into the kingdom of heaven, as it is present now and as it takes shape in the future.
So, let’s get going with the question. In this parable of the ground, and the seeds, and the sower, what does the kingdom of heaven look like? And, we heard Jesus’ interpretation of this parable as well. What does this parable say to us in the here and now, and as God’s kingdom takes shape in the future?
As I ponder the answers to this kingdom question, I realize, we live in a time and place where it feels like there is just never enough: not enough money, or clean water, or fresh air, or fuel, or security, or happiness, or well, you name it. Sometimes this feeling comes from the ads we are subjected to, radio or television, or Internet that strives to create in us a sense of inadequacy that only that particular product can fulfill. Maybe the feeling comes from politicians who, whether from the right, left, or middle, follow a similar strategy by naming what is lacking, what we should fear, and then offering themselves as the solution to our problems.
In this world I believe the parable and Jesus’ interpretation of the parable say to us, something very very different from all of that, Jesus says to us, you are enough, you are loved.
God sows the seed. God sows the seed and some falls on the dirt beside the path. God sows the seed and some falls on the rocky places. God sows the seed that fell among the thorn bushes. And God sows the seed that fell on good soil. In this kingdom, God is the seed sower and the crop that results is wonderful, and it is abundant. We know this because crops never yield grain a hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold. Matthew uses this kind of exaggeration so that we hear the abundance. That kind of yield is unheard of. This is the key to this parable. The kingdom of heaven looks like this kind of extraordinary, magnificent, abundance. But that yield is up to God, the sower, and God, the sower of seed, sows that seed in you, no matter where you find yourself today, you are enough.
No matter if you are feeling that you are the dirt beside the path. You are enough, and you are loved. No matter if you are feeling somewhat rocky. You are enough, and you are loved. No matter if you are feeling a bit thorny. You are enough, and you are loved. You may be feeling like good soil, and wonder why there seems to be not much yield. You are enough, and you are loved.
You see, in God’s Kingdom, we are at one time or another like any one of these soils. I’m not going to say to you today be like the fertile soil or else. I don’t think that’s the way of the Kingdom. The way of the Kingdom is that as human beings we are at one time or another like the thorns, or the stony path, or the rocky soil, or the fertile ground.
Because you are enough, and you are loved, you are a part of God’s kingdom vision. God’s kingdom vision in this story of good news, this gospel puzzle, is profound and active righteousness, conduct focused in acts of mercy and hospitality. Those acts of mercy and hospitality look like when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was thirsty, you gave me drink, when I was a stranger, you welcomed me, when I was naked, you clothed me, when I was in prison, you visited me.
Kingdom of God, or kingdom of heaven stories, these parables, are all about you and me and our role in God’s kingdom. We are agents of new creation because God began something absolutely new with Jesus in the incarnation, in the word made flesh, in the midst of you and me. This new thing is the Kingdom, it is the new creation, it is where you and I belong, it is where you and I live. And in it, you are enough, you are loved.
And being an agent of new creation, participating in the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is to encounter Jesus in our midst, it is to live a life transformed by the resurrection so that resurrection is abundantly evident in all you do. Living as an agent of new creation is to take incarnation seriously. No matter what kind of ground we are today, God loves us, and we are called to respond to God’s abundant love in Jesus, with mercy and hospitality. Because loving us as we are is not, of course, the same as being content with where we are. In fact, precisely because God loves us God wants us to discover the abundant life of trust in God and love of and service to our neighbor. Precisely because God loves us, God wants us to stand against the fear and scarcity that drive prejudice, racism, greed, and violence. Precisely because God loves us, God wants to strive for the equality and dignity of all people. Precisely because God loves us, God wants us to share what we have generously so all will have enough food and shelter. Precisely because God loves us, that is, God wants us to grow into the people God knows we can be.