Brief synopsis of the readings: The prophet Isaiah spoke about how rain and snow come down to earth and don’t return without watering the ground which allows food to grow. In the same way the words of the prophet (who speaks for God) do not return until it succeeds in what it was meant to do. In the (shorter form of) the Gospel Jesus speaks of a farmer who scattered seeds on his land. Some of the seeds were eaten by birds, others were spread on rocks where they couldn’t grow. Others were spread among weeds who grew alongside the good seeds and strangled them. Finally some seeds were sown in rich soil and produced a crop that that was one hundred fold, sixty fold, or thirty fold. “Listen, anyone who has ears.”
If you’ve ever seen the musical Godspell you probably remember how this Gospel played out. Some of the actors played seeds who were eaten or died or grew a little before dying while others played weeds that choke off seeds. And a select few played seeds that actually landed in rich soil that produced crop.
Just like last week we need to dig into these readings and understand agriculture. I have to confess that I don’t know much about farming but I always wondered why the farmer in this gospel seemed to spread the seeds all over place with seemingly no regard to where he was scattering. I’m of the impression that tilling the soil was fairly important to ensuring the seeds landed on fertile ground.
And while farming brings with it many variables (precipitation, market fluctuations, etc.) farming is a simple if difficult experience. You till the land, ensure the soil has nutrients, plant the seeds, water them, and you get a crop. After harvest you start the process over again.
Clearly both Isaiah and Matthew are tying together agriculture with ministry. The Word of God has always come forth from God through those he chose and the intent of that word transforms us into disciples. But that demands this question: who does God choose to proclaim his word?
In many places it was assumed that God’s word spoke through those he choose as leaders, be that an individuals like Abraham and Moses, or through chosen positions like judges or kings. But around the time of Isaiah and others, God also made another choice: prophets. These weren’t the rich and the powerful, but the wise. Their job wasn’t easy and their word wasn’t always welcome.
We know the names of some of the most famous prophets of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Jeremiah) and the less famous prophets (Micah, Amos). But the time of the prophets in the Old Testament lasted only a few centuries. Does that mean that God stopped choosing prophets after this? Of course not.
By virtue of the Holy Spirit in our lives we are all prophets. We are all called to speak the word of God. These readings struck me this week because this past weekend Americans celebrated the 4th of July, the day we declared our independence from England. The Declaration of Independence states clearly that our human rights do not come to us from rulers (like King George III) or office holders (Parliament) but from God.
And so let us look back to the agricultural imagery. A farmer that scatters seeds at will is a terrible farmer. But when we speak God’s word we don’t pick and choose who we speak to. Speaking God’s word doesn’t mean we step into the shoes of Isaiah: it can be as simple as reaching out to another person with word of encouragement or invitation.
But it also doesn’t mean that we reach out to only those we think will hear us or the ones we want to hear us. I’ve been in the world of ministry for most of my adult life and I’ve loved it. I have to confess a certain impatience with other ministers who only want to pick and choose who they reach out to.
Simply put we are called to love people who trouble or offend us. We all know who they are in our lives. Maybe they are people who seek to exclude people we love (people of color, members of the LGBT community) or people who exclude us.
What looks like rocks or weeds to us may be be fertile soil to God. My best example of this is Oskar Schindler. He was factory owner in Poland during the Nazi occupation who employed Jewish prisoners because they were cheaper than ordinary citizens. But he eventually began to see these Jews as human beings worthy of life and he paid bribes to the Nazis to prevent his workers from being shipped to the death camps. This cost him a great deal of wealth but it’s generally assumed that he saved 1200 Jews from nearly certain death. Those 1200 and and all their descendants are referred to as “Schinderjuden” or “Schindler Jews.” In 2012 they were estimated to 8,500 strong. Schindler himself is buried in Jerusalem and inscribed on his stone is this: “They are all yours, they are all Jews… it is all your doing.”
We don’t know much about his conversion or what made him change his view of Jews (he was actually a member of the Nazi party). But imagine if God called one of us to convince him to change his ways? Would we say no because we held him in such contempt that we didn’t want him to change? Or, more probably, would we think that reaching out to him would be a waste of time? Either way, that’s God’s call, not ours.
I can’t tell you how many lives have crossed my path in ministry, and truthfully I didn’t like all of them. The most distasteful ones for me? Candidly they are those who claim to be “good Christians” while telling me that God condemns people they don’t like (again, members of the LGBT community or those take a knee at the US National Anthem).
But I minister to them not because of who they are but because of who I am. At the end of the day I may think I can discern rocks, weeds, and fertile grounds, but it’s not my call, it’s Gods.
And if this makes me a terrible farmer, so be it.