The Sower and the Goooood Soil
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Happy is the one who thinks himself to be
not better than the soil beneath his feet.”
— Evagrios of Pontos (345-399)
On the lakeshore, too many people gathered around Jesus, so he commandeered a small boat and pushed out into the water. A few yards out, he turned so he could see them and laid down his oar.
He told them the now famous “Parable of the Sower” which is this Sunday’s gospel reading wherein he makes it pretty clear: If you want to grow a crop, cast the seed upon “the gooooood soil.” He probably pronounced it real slow-like so that as many as could might understand he was making a point.
Don’t throw it on the footpath; birds will eat it up.
The shallow patch atop the shale bed is a waste.
And don’t expect a crop to grow in the briar patch.
The goooooood soil
The lesson seemed clear enough. Don’t waste your resources on patches of soil that offer no opportunity for return. Be the wise sower, hence “The Parable of the Sower.” But then his lesson changed.
“Listen up!” he said, gathering their attention. A pause followed as the crowd hushed. A cloud passed across the sun. The sounds of the lake water lapping ashore and the call of a distant waterbird indicated that Jesus was about to get all mystic on them. Sensing this, the disciples shifted nervously: “Why do you always tell these roundabout stories?” they asked (v. 10).
This is the part the reader in church usually skips. Because, true to his more cryptic form, Jesus quotes from a prophet and talks about meaning within meaning, She (the reader) picks up a few verses later when the Lord perceives their disconnect and explains his story in more simple terms.
Only the second time around, the lesson has a different application. He’s not talking about the wise sower at all. He’s talking about the soil. More specifically, which soil you want to be. Again: “The goooooood soil.”
But here’s the deal: If I am comparable to soil types, then at one time or another, I’ve been all of them.
I’m the hardened soil, inattentive to the whisper of truth in my ear. The daylong distractions land and fly away like birds.
I’m the shallow soil above a hardened and inflexible will. I’m the briar patch, host to the aforementioned distracting birds.
And yet the Lord says to be “the goooooood soil.” Be the heart that can host the seed. In whatever form it comes.
And that takes preparation. It means I need to turn the soil from time to time. Open things up. Break down the clods of routine, allow for innovation, growth, water, light, air.
“In the field of opportunity it’s plowin’ time again,” Neil Young sings. If the soil is my heart, it needs preparation. It needs the Sower to come.
O Lord, keep me honest. Keep me open to your word.
Keep me available to your cultivation.
But most of all — Keep me.
Thank you for birds, for they are your creation too.
Thank you for rocky shale beds, for they purify the streams
that water the briar patches where your birds live.
And thank you for coming to turn the soil
where your word takes root in my heart.
Come again, please. Amen.
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), Arles, November 1888
oil on canvas, 32.5 cm x 40.3 cm
Credits: Thanks to Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
“Van Gogh had a special interest in sowers throughout his artistic career. All in all, he made more than 30 drawings and paintings on this theme. He painted this sower in the autumn of 1888. At the time, Van Gogh was working together with Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Gauguin believed that in his work Van Gogh should draw less on reality and more on his imagination.
Here, Van Gogh used colours meant to express emotion and passion. He assigned the leading roles to the greenish-yellow of the sky and the purple of the field. The bright yellow sun looks like a halo, turning the sower into a saint.”