Eucharist – 5th Sunday after Trinity 12th July
Today’s Gospel reading ( Matthew 13. 1-9, 18-23) will no doubt be very familiar to many of you: – it’s generally known as the “Parable of the Sower”, and tells how the word of God’s kingdom may be spread far and wide, like seed across the fields, but how well it grows depends on where it lands. All sorts of things can go wrong – but not always or everywhere. When I was a child I was taught it to think of it as a warning: receive, and accept, God’s good gift, but look after it well, so it (and you) grow up and bear fruit for others. OK so far.
But this story – this parable – which means a story with a hidden meaning – is told to a great crowd of people simply as a story: there is no indication to all and sundry that there is any more to it than meets the eye – or (I suppose) the ear. They aren’t taught anything. If all you read today is what’s on the paper, you’ll be in the same boat as they were: none the wiser, until you hear (or remember) some sermon, or indeed (please God!) read this sheet. But if you look back at the Bible reference you will notice that nine or ten verses are left out. Why? Why not tell us the whole story, or (to put it the other way round) why interrupt the passage for its very first readers or listeners with a bit of something quite else?
Well: parables have to be unpacked. At first, Jesus’s disciples are just there with everybody else: but, when they don’t “get it” straight away, they step aside and ask. That’s the bit that’s left out, this morning: their going straight to the horse’s mouth for an explanation: and not only of the story itself, but also of why Jesus doesn’t tell everyone the whole story, right from the start. Our editors today have left us in the crowd, not knowing why we’ve been left out, until we bother to ask, and (indeed) listen. “Let those who have ears to hear…”, etc.
Now this particular parable isn’t the only one where this happens. It is one of a group of stories known as the “parables of the kingdom”, and we’ll hear (or read) others in the next few weeks. I won’t spoil it now by giving the game away: but in at least some of the longer ones this same technique of “splitting” the story between the general public, out there in the crowd, and a private audience, behind the scenes is used. Some people like to think these disciples – this “chosen few” – are somehow more “chosen” than the rest, but I prefer to think of it as their being simply the first of many. Their job, as Jesus’s closest followers, is to pass on what he tells them, so the word spreads further and faster as they go (like the seed). It’s fair enough that they check out the details first – their interpretation might be wrong! – but then off they go to get on with it. In this parable, I suppose, they are the “Sowers”: as perhaps also, nowadays, you and me.
Perhaps you noticed how this story starts, as do all in this group: “the kingdom of heaven is like…” Not what it is. Jesus shows us pictures from different angles, so we can all see for ourselves: and the place to search (he later tells even the Pharisees – Luke 17.20-21) is within their hearts: since that’s where the kingdom is.