Pentecost 6B, 2012
A Liturgy is also available
A SOWER OF LIFE OR DEATH… IS YOUR CHOICE
Once again I have decided to ‘stray’ from the set Lectionary readings.
And replaced a John reading with a Mark story.
An important, if not pivotal, Markan story at that.
The story or parable of the Sower, often labelled
the ‘great omission’, because those who designed the Lectionary
most times ‘omit’ or leave out this story – for unexplained reasons.
One suggestion why this story is not included in the Lectionary,
seems to be due to the many different interpretations that can be given to it.
Interpretations dependant on which ‘character’ is chosen as the focus.
As Elizabeth Reid suggests, that focus could be:
The parable of the sower,
The parable of the seed,
The parable of the soil,
The parable of the harvest (Reid 1999: 93).
Mmm. Quiet a list, isn’t it.
Well, let us play with this challenging story for a while.
Jesus was a peasant sage.
His stories were full of the “precariousness of existence” (Cairns 2004: 50).
So what might be the context for this story?
While any audience is always a mix of many different people,
I want to offer two suggestions for possible contexts.
1. The rural context…
If the audience who heard this story was made up of peasant, landless farmers,
and if the sower was pictured as one of their landlords, their bosses
“they might react with disdain toward the sloppy and wasteful manner of sowing” (Reid 2001:80).
What a waste!
What is wrong with this bloke?
When seed is precious, what sane farmer would allow some of it
to fall among rocks or on a well worn, probably limestone, footpath?
If the audience was made up of peasant, landless farmers,
and if the sower was pictured as one of them, a tenant farmer or day labourer
“their reaction would be sympathetic. They would know all too well the amount of seed and effort that is expended that never bears fruit because of the difficult conditions” (Reid 2001:81).
And they might listen some more.
2. The political context…
Most people who have reflected on Mark’s gospel in general,
assume it was written around the early 70s.
That is, either just before or just after the fall of Jerusalem.
Working with this assumption, Ian Cairns says:
“This fall undoubtedly produced a massive crisis of faith for those christians who had involved themselves in the struggle for Jerusalem’s survival, and in whose understanding the ongoing role of Jerusalem city and temple was of strategic importance for the progress and consummation of Jesus’ mission” (Cairns 2004: 51).
So if the audience was made up of traders, fisher-folk, housewives,
or toll collectors, Mark’s story “breathes encouragement” (Cairns 2004:55).
Despite set-backs and disappointments faced by the fledging Jesus movement,
there was still hope, still potential.
Now I feel I can confidently say that the majority of you, my audience,
have heard this popular story before. And some of the interpretations given to it.
So, to use Elizabeth Reid’s comments as a template,
let me ask this question: which character gets your focus?
I invite you to chat for a couple of minutes,
with two or three of the folk sitting near you.
Which ‘character’ and why that focus, for you?
Go for it!
I hope you found that interesting.
Remembering your personal comments let me offer some focusing comments
inspired by biblical scholar, Barbara Reid.
They are suggestions only, but you might consider them
against your own comments.
1. If your focus was on the sower…
From this perspective the story centres on how God acts.
God sows on all types of ground.
An illustration of all-inclusive love, of ‘crossing boundaries’.
Would such ‘boundary crossing’ have got a ‘yes’, a ‘tick’, from you?
2. If your focus was on the seed…
From this perspective the story centres on the reliability of the seed.
That while at first all our efforts to be ‘church’ seems to make
little to no difference in our community,
patience and persistence can make a difference.
Would such ‘faithfulness’ have got a ‘yes’ from you?
3. If your focus was on the soil…
From this perspective the story invites
(a) those who see themselves as ‘chosen’, to also include others;
(b) those who experience being ‘outsiders’, “a door is now open to them” (Reid 1999: 95).
Would such ‘inclusivity’ have got a ‘yes’, a ‘tick’, from you?
4. If your focus was on the harvest…
From this perspective the story articulates radical hope.
For oppressed people such hope would be expressed in the
re-ordering of relationships – between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.
Would such ‘subversion’ have got a ‘yes’ from you?
We live in a pluralistic, global world.
Indeed, our particular context is a media-saturated global village,
where each day and night we are capable of
“watching victims of famine and war die on our television screens as we eat our dinner” (Killen & deBeer 1994:1).
The challenges confronting us in this place and in this the 21st century,
demand that we reflect thoughtfully and carefully
on questions of meaning and value.
Jesus’ parables can help us with this reflection.
But they don’t provide easy answers or practical advice.
They simply undermine our acceptance of ‘this is the way things are’.
Indeed, if the truth be known, the parables are no more than invitations
which “lure us toward new horizons” (O’Donohue 2003: 146).
And in the case of Jesus that ‘new horizon’ was what he called the realm of God.
A realm everywhere present though people do not see it.
A realm, not ‘among you’ or ‘within you’, as some claim, but
‘within your reach or grasp’.
A ‘this world’ realm of co-operation and celebration.
There are many things that must be done to help us change
our ways of living to insure that life- people, nature, planet – will
continue and flourish in a sustainable manner,
and in harmony with all.
Likewise, diminishing life, hindering human flourishing, and
obstructing the ongoing process of ‘nature/creation’,
are harmful and wrong.
So whether this evolving global village will be a ‘sower’ of death or life,
“is a choice that is up to human beings in all societies around the world” (Peters 2002:13).
Cairns, I. J. 2004. Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. NZ: Masterton. Fraser Books.
Killen, P. O’C.; J deBeer. 1994. The Art of Theological Reflection. NY: New York. Crossroads Publishing.
O’Donohue, J. 2003. Divine Beauty. The Invisible Embrace. GtB: London. Bantam Books.
Peters, K. E. 2002. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. PA: Harrisburg. Trinity Press International.
Reid, B. E. 2001. Parables for Preachers. Year A. MN: Collegeville. The Liturgical Press.
Reid, B. E. 1999. Parables for Preachers. Year B. MN: Collegeville. The Liturgical Press.