Sowing via WhatsApp – Wednesday, 16th week in ordinary time – Matthew 13: 1-9
Chapter 13 is the third of the five major bodies of teachings found in the Gospel of Matthew. This section has seven parables and uses examples from every day Palestinian life that involved farming, trading and fishing. The parables illustrate how God’s empire is at work in the world. The parables also challenge the audience afresh to continue to live on the basis of God’s empire in the midst of various difficulties until its full purposes are accomplished. The word ‘parable’ appears twelve times in chapter 13 and one third of the teaching of Jesus are in parables. A parable comes from a Greek word which means ‘to throw alongside.’ That is, basic to the parable genre is the notion of comparison; one entity is set alongside something else to be illuminated by the comparison.
The text of today reminds us that the parables were given ‘that same day’, namely the Sabbath which we learn of in Chapter 12. Chapter 12 narrates several stories of Jesus’ conflicts with the Pharisees, who are now plotting to destroy him (12:14) and have accused him of working for Satan (12:24). By the end of chapter 12, Jesus appears to be at odds even with his own family (12:46-50). In spite of the personal attacks of the Pharisees against him in 12:24 and his own rejection by his family members, Jesus chooses to carry on teaching and working; he did not let the barbs of the religious establishment get to him.
The parable ‘of the sower’ which is also found in the Gospel of Mark 4:1-9,13-20 and Luke 8:4-8,11-15 takes place “beside the sea” of Galilee where Jesus called the first disciples (4:18-22) and involves a sower, seeds and soil. This scenario was familiar to the gospel’s largely rural audience who knew well the ways of its agriculturally-based society.
Right away I want to draw your attention to the name of this parable. The ‘parable of the sower’ is a misleading title that appears in our Bibles. Over the years we have come to believe that the focus of the parable is on the sower. The focus of the parable is not the sower or the seed but the soil or the listeners of the parable.
Interestingly while the parable does speak of the sower who would have been a male peasant farmer, it does not claim that the sower was the owner of the land. This means that any hired help disconnected with the final output of the harvest could have been given the job. Being a hired-help he would simply do the job at hand, namely to scatter seeds. The sower scatters his seed carelessly, recklessly, seemingly wasting much of the seed on ground that holds little promise for a fruitful harvest. However, when we reorient our minds to the purpose of the parable, we come to realize that what really matters is the soil. Make no mistake, the parable is not a critique on the sower and how he sows but on the soil. Hence this parable is really about us—those who hear the “word of the kingdom” and this kingdom is filled with mixed responses to Jesus and his ministry even today.
Even though the parables focus is not about the sower we could learn a lesson or two from the sowers that we in the Church have become. Too often we play it safe, sowing the word only where we are confident it will be well received, and only where those who receive it are likely to become contributing members of our congregations. While it is true that the parable calls us to be good and receptive soil, but for a moment let us also embrace the task of being ‘sowers’ who are willing to risk sowing God’s word via WhatsApp and Facebook and Instagram. Notice how much of social media has become about us and what we do each day and so little about the Lord and how we could spread his message. Jesus’ approach to mission is quite at odds with our play-it-safe instincts. He gives us freedom to take risks for the sake of the gospel. Perhaps modern sowing is not meant to be on fields anymore but via our digital devices.
The parable ends with an appeal — “let anyone with ears, listen” (13:9).
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