July 12, 2020
Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 25:19-34 or Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 119:105-112 or Psalm 65:(1-8) 9-13
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 65:10-11, 12-13, 14 (Lk 8:8)
Matthew 13:1-9 (10-23)
Early in my career as a church musician, the pastor of the church where I served once said to me, “Michael, I’d like to see you fail.” After recovering from the initial shock, I realized that he was not wishing me ill, but rather challenging me not to play it so safe. To accomplish great things, he was suggesting, one needs to be willing to take risks.
The sower that we hear about in today’s Gospel is clearly not afraid to fail. She hurls seed in every direction, seemingly unconcerned about whether it will land on a path, on rocks, among thorns, or in the good soil. Although I’m no gardener, this approach strikes me as not only inefficient, but wasteful.
Of course, the parables of Jesus are not intended to be realistic or even plausible, but rather to turn our thinking inside out and upside down. The generosity of the sower in spreading the seed everywhere reveals the way of God, whose word is showered upon the world just “as the rain and the snow come down from heaven” (Isaiah 55:10). God’s word is freely, liberally given, without concern for the outcome.
The sower’s willingness to risk failure, to scatter seed even in places where it is unlikely to yield a harvest, is both a consolation and a challenge to disciples of Christ. Can we take up the task of spreading the good news of God’s love and grace without regard for how it may be received? Are we willing to take a chance on failure? If you’re as risk averse as I am, you may find this an to be a very uncomfortable challenge.
As it turns out, we are merely the sowers. We may never witness firsthand the growth of the plant let alone enjoy the yield. Yet Jesus assures us that seeds falling on good soil will bring forth great quantities of grain – “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:8). This parable challenges us to trust in the abundance of God to bring forth a great harvest that we may never see or benefit from.
Jesus dares us to scatter the seed of God’s word widely and then to trust in the assurance we are given in today’s reading from Isaiah: “it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Go ahead, says Jesus – “I’d like to see you fail.”
A Hymn for Today: “God of the Fertile Fields”
This text by Georgia Harkness was composed for a search conducted in 1955 by The Hymn Society and the Department of Town and Country Work of the Methodist Church. The two organizations collaborated to seek hymns that would “express the needs and aspirations of people in the churches and communities of rural America.”
This updated version of Harkness’ text appears in the hymnal Glory to God (PCUSA). It reflects both ecological and social concerns in response to God’s generous gift of this good earth and our responsibility to care both for it and for those who inhabit it. The third stanza is particularly appropriate for this Sunday, with its reference to the “hidden seed” which produces abundant growth that “serves our need” and points to the growth of God’s reign.
God of the fertile fields,
shaper of earth that yields
our daily bread:
forth from your bounteous hand
come gifts your love has planned,
that all in every land
be clothed and fed.
We would be stewards true,
holding in trust from you
all that you give;
help us in love to share,
teach us like you to care
for people everywhere,
that all may live.
As grows the hidden seed
to fruit that serves our need,
so your reign grows.
Let all our toil be used,
no gift of yours abused,
no humble task refused
your love bestows.
God of the countryside,
dear to the Christ who died
to make us one:
we pledge our lives anew
in faithful love to you.
Guide all we say and do.
Your will be done.
Text: Georgia Harkness, 1955, alt. © 1955, ren. 1983, The Hymn Society, admin. Hope Publishing Co.
Image Credit: Sower, James Jacques Joseph, 1836-1902
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.