Summary: How hard is it to throw seed on the ground? What does this parable say to us about what Jesus wants from us in witnessing?
OPEN: One of the most beloved of American artists was Norman Rockwell. But, though many of the common folk loved and cherished his paintings, many other artists did not, deriding him as nothing more than a common illustrator.
Rockwell once explained the difference between his style of painting and that of many modern artists with this story:
Ten or fifteen years ago a Bohemian art student – complete with the beard, long hair, sandals – kept hanging around a studio I’d rented… One day he interrupted my work on a painting of Johnny Appleseed which showed an old man with an iron kettle on his head and a burlap sack for a coat striding across a hilltop, flinging out handfuls of seed.
“Whatta ya do it that way for?” the art student asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Whyn’t ya do it with more feeling?” he said. “Like this.”
He pulled out colored chalk out of his pocket & outlined a tall rectangle on a big piece of paper. “Now” he said, filling in with light-brown chalk a shape like a hawk’s beak, “that’s old Johnny’s body. It was browned by the wind and sun. O.K.?”
I nodded, startled.
“O.K.,” he said, and he divided the rectangle into a red area and a white area. “He was kind of a religious fanatic, right?”
I nodded dumbly.
“So the white’s his spirit,” he said, “and the red’s the physical part of him and they’re contending, the physical and the spiritual.”
He rubbed blue chalk over the area below the hawk’s beak – “that’s nature.” He made the base of the rectangle dark brown – “that’s earth.” And then he added a hand casting a seed.
When he’d finished I said “But, nobody knows it’s Johnny Appleseed. Only you know it’s Johnny Appleseed. Nobody else can tell who it is.”
“So? What difference does it make about anybody else? I know it’s Johnny. I’m painting it for myself. Who cares about the unwashed masses?”
(Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post Jan./ Feb. 09, p. 48)
APPLY: Rockwell’s point was that “modern” artists often painted only for their own satisfaction. The story of Johnny Appleseed merely served as a backdrop to illustrate that truth.
But Appleseed’s story also serves as a kind of backdrop for the truth Jesus taught in this parable. Every where Johnny Appleseed went – he planted apple seeds… and preached about Jesus. You could say he was a steward of both kinds of seed.
He wanted apples to be easily available to everyone.
And he wanted the message of Christ to be easily understood by everyone.
He did this because he cared!
But that modern artist didn’t care.
He didn’t care whether the fruit of labor was easy to get at or that his message would be easy to understand. His objective was simply to please himself. AND If you didn’t understand what he’d painted… that was your fault.
As I studied today’s text, it occurred to me that Jesus doesn’t want us to have that kind of attitude when we handle His seed. IT’S not about pleasing us - it’s His seed/ His message. And He wants us to CARE whether or not His message is easily available/understood.
Matthew 28 tells us the last instructions Jesus left His disciples before He ascended into heaven: