Scripture for 16 July: Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The temperate rainforest in British Columbia is littered with the trunks and stumps of dead trees, but is also lush with new life. It is an illustration of the way in which nature sows seeds: liberally, abundantly, profligately. It contrasts markedly with the way in which human gardeners generally sow seed: carefully, frugally, thriftily.
In the parable of the sower, Jesus describes a way of sowing seed that is much more similar to the way in which nature does it than the way in which humans do. It is a parable about abundance, and God’s almost reckless generosity. The parable indicts our austere way of managing the resources entrusted to us: the material, emotional and spiritual goods of creation. If we become, as Oscar Wilde suggested a century ago, people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, we detach ourselves from the abundant generosity of God.
The parable is also about soil. What makes what Jesus called “good soil?”
David Suchet, in talking about his role as Hercule Poirot, stated that he had learned something from the character of the little Belgian detective: to become a better listener. Good soil for the word and love of God is attentive and listens. To what do we listen? To that still, small voice of God within us; to the words that come from scripture; to the prophetic voices of those around us (which means we have to pay attention, because we never know who might have a prophetic word!).
The listening has to lead to something: to become a channel for God’s vision, using the imagination vested in us; to become a channel for God’s dreams. Churches often have a problem with this, because we tend to like our traditions and we collectively embody that basic human trait, aversion to change. But to be good soil for what is sown, we must be willing to look beyond the status quo, to what might be possible.
And then, for the vision to become a reality, action is necessary, which requires courage and commitment. In the words of John Keble, who was commemorated last Friday, “help us, this and every day, to live more nearly as we pray.”
Coincidentally, on this day (16 July), 125 years ago, something occurred which is an example of vision, courage and conviction – not to mention persistence. A lady called Martha Ricks presented a quilt to Queen Victoria. It might seem inconsequential, except that it had taken Martha 50 years to fulfil her dream. She was a liberated American slave who had moved to Liberia; Queen Victoria was the ruler of one of the largest empires the world has known. The quilt was, amongst other things, offered in thanksgiving for for the queen’s support of the anti-slavery movement.
We are meant to be more than just recipients of God’s love, which is abundantly distributed throughout creation in ways that are reflected in nature’s extravagant distribution of seeds, rather than parsimonious human agriculture. We are meant to re-distribute it. It needs a receptive soil to flourish and thrive. Can we combine these two things, to allow the words of Jesus, “the kingdom of God has come near,” to echo in our world, and to come to fruition?
Frugality, austerity, hoarding the resources bestowed upon us in creation: these do not bring the kingdom any nearer. God lavishes love upon us without withholding. Can we be equally generous in listening, imagining and acting upon God’s word, and passing on God’s love?