Summary: A "City Kid" learns about farming from a small town congregation, and from Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Harvest.
As many of you, I was NOT raised I a farming community. Los Angeles is a long way from the plains of Central Kansas, literally and figuratively. 4H and FFA were things that we only read about in books. While there was some agriculture scattered around the area where I grew up, it certainly wasn’t a world that I was familiar with. It seemed as though the only things that grew in the LA area were homes and highways. Custom cutters were a chain of discount beauty salons, similar to Super Cuts. “Combine” was when you mixed two things together, “implements” were something you went to the doctor for, and “drilling” usually involved a piece of wood. Now I know that I wasn’t as ignorant as some folks out there. I knew that flour didn’t just come from the store, but the “in’s and out’s” of the farming life were completely foreign to me. Needless to say, I have learned a lot about this most important subject in recent years, and I thank you all for your patience with all my questions as I seek to grow in wisdom and knowledge where all things farming are concerned.
This learning about agriculture has also deepened my understanding of Scripture, and many of the sayings of Jesus that deal with seeds, wheat, weeds, harvest and the like. Jesus uses many agricultural images, that before I understood with only limited success. Today’s readings help us to focus on some of those images. I pray that in our time together this morning, I can share some of my “new insights” with you. Perhaps they will be new insights for you as well. Perhaps you’ll say to yourself, “Well, Pastor, it’s about time you figured that one out!” In either case, I pray that you will be fed with God’s life-giving Spirit, supported in your walk of faith, and challenged into a deeper life of discipleship. As God sends the rain and snow with a divine purpose, so too God’s Word is sent out to accomplish the task for which God has sent it. As this Word goes out, may it fall on the soil of our heart, to sprout and grow in the light of God’s amazing grace.
“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow…’” (Matthew 13:1-3) Farming was different is Jesus’ day than it is today. The tasks done today by tractor and implements were done either by hand or with a wooden plow, pulled by donkeys or oxen. There was no sophisticated equipment available to aid the farmer in planting the seed at the proper depth or distance between seeds; the work was all done by hand, and usually not by the owner of the field. The landowner would usually hire laborers to work in the field, planting, weeding, and harvesting. (see Matthew 20, 21) And as is the pattern with custom cutters today, the people who sowed the seed were most likely not the ones who were there to do the harvesting. Laborers would specialize in one aspect of farming, and would move around the region, as their skills were needed in each area. The laborer who planted a field would not be around to see the results of his effort. Nor would the laborer who removed the weeds. And likewise, the harvester would not know how much seed had been planted, or the exact amount of work that went into achieving the results. Each focused on their own task, and trusted that the rest of the process would take place.
Even though planting was done by hand, there was still some common sense involved in the process. In the same way that you do not throw pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6), you don’t bother to plant in an area that won’t grow crops. Even the city folks know you don’t expect to grow a bumper crop on the highway! But Jesus doesn’t seem overly concerned with this agricultural strategy as he tells his story. Sometimes seed ends up on the path, and when it does, the birds get a free lunch. The same is true with the rocky ground and the thorny patch. The seed got there somehow, and the sower isn’t overly concerned. That’s just what happens when you’re busy doing your job: getting out as much seed as possible. If it sprouts and is scorched or choked out, that’s not for the sower to worry about. The sower’s job is to spread the seed.
Finally Jesus gets to the seed that lands in the good soil. It brings in a variety of results: “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13: 8b) Scholars disagree about what was considered a “good crop,” but Jesus implies that even on “good soil,” the size of the harvest can vary by quite a large margin. And as we found out with harvest this year, there can still be a wide variety of returns when harvesting “good soil” today. There are many factors at work, some of which we can’t control. In Jesus’ day, as in our own, the act of farming was in many ways an act of faith, trusting that God will take the work that has been done and provide a harvest of God’s own design. We just do our job, and leave the rest to God. And Jesus is perfectly content to leave the parable there, no explanation needed: “Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matthew 13:9) It is only after some time elapses and the disciples get to stew on it a bit that they ask him to explain, which he does reluctantly.