This summer nature has astonished me over and over again. More than once I have been stopped short by some part of nature—the green around me from leaves and grass and even weeds, the intensity of colors in the summer blossoms, the early morning bird songs that awaken me, the quiet gentle rains and the resounding thunderous storms, the mysterious full moon on a July night. Most recently, today I was astonished by a small, inconspicuous Black-eyed Susan growing up through a crack in the curb, by the side of the street where I live.
Now, I have seen many small flowers, bravely shooting up from a root, hidden in soil beneath impossible places to grow and yet, somehow, these flowers never cease to amaze me in how their roots find small hidden cracks, where plants grow and bloom. I never grow tired of seeing these little miracles. Each of these little blossoms are a reminder that even in the most ugly, most difficult parts of life, there is beauty and hope.
The Gospel lesson for this past Sunday is one of the parables of Jesus found in the 13th Chapter of Matthew. It is the parable of the sower, where Jesus talks about seeds that are planted in all kinds of soil, as an illustration of living in the midst of the kingdom of God. Jesus paints a picture with words that show a sower—a farmer—diligently sowing seeds. It is so important to get those seeds sown for this farmer. The farmer has prepared the soil, but the seeds do not always fall in the best-prepared soil. Sometimes the seeds fall in soil that is not conducive for growing.
Of course, the seeds that fall on soil, that is the richest, best-prepared soil, will thrive as long as the weather conditions produce adequate rain and sun. This is not really the emphasis of Jesus’ parable. There are other kinds of soil that produce other kinds of harvests or lack thereof. It is important to pay attention to these other soils and to be aware of what happens to these seeds.
I grew up in North Carolina and am a descendant of tobacco plantation owners. In Rockingham County, where my tobacco farmer ancestors settled there are several places—pieces of property—that are called “Oldfields.” In fact, there is a church that is called Oldfields Presbyterian Church. In the days of the early to mid 1800’s, when not all farmers understood the science of agriculture, the tobacco fields were planted year after year with tobacco. Tobacco is hard on the land and after several years of deteriorating tobacco crops the land wore out and was then referred to as “Oldfields.” During this era, these fields were not good for much of anything else; the land had lost all its purpose. They sat undisturbed for long, long periods of time. Obviously, these fields would not be the ideal soil for planting seeds of any kind and would be a good illustration for the parable.
I am also the granddaughter a farmer grandfather. My grandfather was a truck farmer, a term used in North Carolina to refer to a farmer that grew many crops, not just one. My grandfather grew strawberries, wheat, tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes to sell, and all kinds of other good things for the family to eat.
My grandfather detested anything that invaded the fields, so weeds were not tolerated and neither were the beautiful, blue chicory plants that I love so much. Chicory grows wild along the edges of fields and can be invasive. My grandfather would have understood the parable and known what would happen when seeds were sown in places where wild invasive plants could grow up and choke the good crops.
These days, it is more difficult for us to comprehend or imagine what Jesus was trying to get across to those who heard him that day. We do not live in an agrarian society anymore. And even though raising food in backyard plots and raised beds is becoming more popular as is purchasing food from farmers in Farmers’ markets, we still cannot completely comprehend the extent of Jesus’ message because most of us do not live the lives so close to the earth and seasons.
I think that we can all understand how seeds that fall in good soil can thrive. I think that we can all understand that Jesus was pointing out that in the best conditions, when we hear the word of God, when we understand the Gospel message, we can live lives that bring grace and mercy into this world.
However, not all of this world is made up of soil that is in the best condition. And not all of the seeds that you and I sow are always seeds of grace and mercy. More and more we find places in this world where things are so bad that it would be easy to believe that it would be impossible to sow anything that can grow and be beautiful or useful. If we look closely enough, we find places in our own communities that can defy us to find something good and beautiful in them. These are the places that we don’t want to think about, that we want to hide from view and yet, deep down inside we know they exist.
There are no easy answers to changing the conditions of these places that we don’t want to see. There are no easy solutions to the problems that emerge from these places. And yet, one thing that those who follow Christ must do is go into these places and make the soil better. However, first we need to examine what kinds of seeds we might be sowing and why we might be sowing seeds in the first place. Do our seeds bring about love and mercy and forgiveness? Do our seeds bring about encouragement, acceptance, and hope—new life in the midst of death and destruction? Or do our seeds bring about hunger and violence and pain? And are we sowing seeds because we think we have all the answers? Or are we sowing seeds out of our love for God and God’s children, out of a desire to be closer to this God who loves all the world so dearly?
The good news of Jesus is for everyone, not just those who are well prepared to hear it and make it grow into lives of promise. The good news can be powerful in the soils that we believe are soils that cannot produce anything. The good news has to be sown in the soils where we think it can’t grow or won’t grow or won’t grow well. Because ultimately, it is the love and mercy and grace of God that brings good out of anything that humanity deems bad or useless.
Today, the little black-eyed Susan was a powerful reminder to look far below the surface of this parable and to let Jesus’ Gospel of love and grace and life continue to speak and direct our actions.
To God alone be glory!