A Different Interpretation and Good Enough Love

Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat SONY DSCand sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”
18Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

A Different Interpretation and Good Enough Love

Join me in prayer,

You’ve sown the seed of your word and love in our hearts, Lord.

We thank you for the times we grow and flourish,

And live into your word.

And we invite your grace in times when we’re choked and silent.

In your love, teach us to love our world, one another, and you better. Amen.

 

50 years. 50 years is 20 more years than I’ve been alive.

50 years ago the Civil Rights Act was signed into law.

50 years ago The Beatles occupied slots 1-5 on the Billboards Top 40. The headline of Billboard Magazine read, “Everyone is just about tired of the Beatles…” and yet just this past weekend Sir Paul McCartney played to a sold-out crowd at the United Center for 2 hours and 45 minutes.

I guess we’re not that tired.

Sometimes it seems like life passes quickly. Sometimes it inches by, like a slow-growing plant pushing and straining through the dirt toward the sun.

If you think about it, 50 years ago we were talking about civil rights. Today we’re still talking about civil rights.

50 years ago The Beatles were rocking. And although two of the original four have died, one in tragic violence and one to illness, their music continues. In fact, John Buckvold, who sits just back there at the second service, made a CD of music for Finn, my son, when he was born, and three of those tracks are Beatles tracks.

Ever since they debuted 50 years ago, it’s kind of been common thought that no childhood should be bereft of “All you need is love; all you need is love. All you need is love, love, love is all you need…”

And, of course, 50 years ago love was on the lips of two young-uns, him just over 20, her not quite, as they kissed and sealed their vows of love with one another in this place.

Sometimes it seems like life passes quickly. Sometimes it inches by…

And I’m sure that’s true for you two, Dieter and Diane, as it is for all of us whether we’re married or single. Whether we’re 50 plus, or just over 20.

I think that one of the reasons Jesus uses so many agrarian metaphors, and that planting and sowing and nature show up so often in his parables, is precisely because time is this strange thing that requires endurance and patience, and yet the thing we’d like to apply the brakes to sometimes…

Few things are like that, you know. Few things in reality are so paradoxical.

Today Jesus talks about sowing in a field and the various fates of different seeds depending on the soil they’re sown in. The Gospel writer Matthew follows this parable up with an explanation of the parable…something that we don’t find in many of the other parables in the Gospels.

Jokes are no good if you have to explain them, right? Parables aren’t jokes in the formal sense, but they are in that their twisty-turny way plays a joke on your logic and reasoning. Parables are meant to be pondered and held, not explained.

That makes us Bible scholars kind of suspicious about the interpretation and whether or not Jesus actually offered one. Maybe an editor put words in Jesus’ mouth. Jesus was good at telling parables and stories, but the interpretation of those things he often left to those around him…God doesn’t give easy answers.

That’s the way of God: more cloud than sunlight, more mystery than revelation, both near and far. A relationship with God, like time, is full wonderful paradox. That’s what makes it dynamic. Like a marriage between two people who, after 50 years, know the habits and preferences of the other, and yet still manage some surprises here and there…

But this sower goes out to sow the field and starts scattering seed around and we find that some seed gets scorched by the sun, some choked by weeds, some eaten by birds.

And some of it grows to amazing harvest.

And today, on top of this text, we have other texts that are speaking to us.

Like the people lying dead in Chicago over the violence of the streets. Over 1000 people this year. 1000.

Like the hostilities in Palestine and Israel rising higher and higher over these poor dead teenagers, a situation that is not at all clear to me. Death begets death. As Jesus says, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” How are we to live?

Like the babies coming across our southern border in droves as they escape the threat of death and mafia and gang warfare and starvation. Say what you want about laws; these are babies. California. Arizona. Texas.

And all the while you have sports-loving us waiting with baited breath as athletes announce where they’ll be playing next year for salaries equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product of small nations…

And see those texts through the lens of Jesus’ parable.

The seeds of life being snatched away by violence that has such a grip on our lives that we can’t seem to break free.

The seeds of life not given the chance to grow because the roots of peace aren’t deep enough in an ancient land.

The seeds of life enduring the scorching sun as they look for growth through the desert.

The seeds of public awareness getting choked out as we pay teachers little and athletes much, and don’t bat an eye at it because we’re too glued to our TV screens to think about it all because LeBron or Carmello or Toews may announce today with the fanfare of a royal birth just where they’ll be…

I know that in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus offers an interpretation of this text, but with parables there are always other interpretations; as there are meant to be. And if I’m honest with myself, the word of God that is sown in the soil of my being should sprout a response to all of these situations, but I too often find it is choked out by a silence that tends to love the status quo too much.

We love profits more than prophets, as someone recently noted on social media.

So all these texts are swirling around in our lives today.

But there is one more. A text that has been 50 years in the composition for you, Dieter and Diane. And for Sis and Charlie, unable to be with us today but still very present in our hearts and minds, 64 years in the making.

And that is a text of love. That is a seed sown in good soil.

A good soil that says that we have way too many deaths here in Chicago, but look here at beauty springing up from the soil of the city: a couple who have been sowing the word of God here at LMC for 50 years, sowing love with one another for 50 years, who have been sown into the soil of this city to grow beauty through their work with the children and adults of the city these years!

See, a religious person like myself sees these texts all on top of one another, including this last one, and I can say that God in the Christ has done some amazing things here, is doing amazing things, despite all these other texts, because this text of love is an amazing harvest, so amazing that it yields enough hopeful fruit for even to deal with all these other texts.

As the Psalmist writes, “God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be forsaken.” In the midst of Chicago. In the midst of Jerusalem. In the midst of Tucson. Even in the midst of the cities awaiting to hear if their favored sports star will sign with them again….

…looking at you, Cleveland…

Sometimes one act of love is enough, just enough, to bring about a different interpretation from those things we see around us.

Sometimes a little green shoot is enough to believe once again that the sower is still sowing seeds of love in this world, and that we get to participate in that growth, and that it will grow despite the thorns and scorching sun and birds around it.

For 50 years. For 64 years. For however long it’s able to.

And, it’s true: sometimes the image of God inside of me is choked out due to the thorns of money, fame and fortune. Sometimes the word of God doesn’t escape my lips because the heat of anger scorches it; the roots of peace aren’t deep enough.

But even then I live in the confidence that the sower of all good things doesn’t plant on a whim, but plants in love.

I truly believe God is in love with this city. Is in love with Jerusalem; Israel and Palestine. Is in love with babies who have nowhere else to go but over the border, and parents who have no other choice but to bless them and send them with a kiss and the hope that they’ll grow in new soil.

And part of the reason I truly believe all those things is because of the Divine love reflected here over 50 years. The Divine love reflected in a small room in a nursing home in Norridge where sits Sis and Charlie; where he’ll crack a joke and she’ll still smile after 64 years.

And things begun in love are never wasted; will never be wasted. As Jesus himself was sown into the earth of the tomb, only to spring up to life three days later despite the thorns of death and the birds of hate that tried to snatch him away, we live in the constant hope that resurrection, even for the seeds choked by affluence, even for the seeds snatched by violence, even for the seeds scorched in the heat of the sun of wandering through the Arizona desert in search of new life, will be the final ending of the parable of the sower and the seeds.

And the final ending for those seeds of love sprouted to life these past years…

No love shared by humans is perfect. Our tendency to choke the life out of one another is evidence of this, and evidenced all around us.

But in the beginning of all things the God who created all things said, “This is good.”

And that goodness, when mixed with God’s perfect love, is indeed good enough.

Good enough to give hope that life, despite all the times it seems things never grow, is not wasted in the soil of God’s love, and that our love is good enough to remind one another, and the world, that God is still in love with all of us.

After all these years.

About Timothy Brown

A pastor. A writer. A dreamer. Occasionally a beer brewer. Pastor of Luther Memorial Church of Chicago. Come check us out!

3 responses to “A Different Interpretation and Good Enough Love”

  1. Amanda says :

    Hi Tim,
    I appreciate your heart and service for the Lord. Thank you for the work you do. You had mentioned that the explanation by Jesus was not found in any other Gospels, but in my reading it appears the same/similar explanation by Jesus is found in the other 2 Gospels that have the parable (Mark 4:13-20, Luke 8:11-15). Maybe I misunderstood what you were referring to. Just semantics.

    The main point I wanted to ask you about is that it seemed that you had a problem with that interpretation. You said the interpretation was unhelpful. I was curious as to what problems you had with it. I grew up in the church and was always taught that interpretation that the seed was the gospel and the ground was our hearts. I appreciate the fresh look you take and wanted to look at this text with fresh eyes as well.
    Thank you!

    • Timothy Brown says :

      Hey Amanda,

      Clumsy wording on my part there; thanks for picking it out. A little editing necessary. That paragraph and the one following weren’t meant to stand together, there was a deletion and addition in the final spoken version not present in the text. I’ll amend it. Basically my point was that we don’t find an explanation of any of the other parables in this straight-forward fashion, even in the other Gospels.

      As far as the interpretation goes, I have no problem with it whatsoever. In fact, I think it’s a fine one…for its limitations. There are other interpretations, though, with every parable. Parables are meant to be that way, as a literary tool.

      One of the problems (and hence my suspicion) with including this interpretation is that when we have words out of Jesus’ mouth, that usually ends all thought about it.

      The soil could be an individual, it could be culture, it could be all sorts of things. Likewise the seed could be a life, it could be The Word, it could be Jesus himself (as I offer at the end of the sermon).

      One interpretation doesn’t compete with another in a parable. They’re all held together.

      Thanks for noting that edit, though.

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