Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
IS 55:10-11; PS 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14; ROM 8:18-23; MT 13:1-23
God as the Extravagant Sower
Jesus purposefully describes God in his parables in ways that go counter to our usual expectations. Among many quirky characteristics, in today's Gospel Jesus implies that God is extravagant - even wasteful. In order to appreciate this, we need to "tune in" to the world that was of great concern to his listeners - the world of crops and harvests that would naturally be a concern for the poor farmers listening to his teaching. Jesus begins his story describing a sower who would be considered rather inept by most standards. Seeds are precious ... and this sower goes out to sow seemingly without caring where the seeds will fall. Some fall on the path, others on rocky ground, and still others among the thorns. For all intents and purposes these seeds are lost. The sower has been wasteful. Only some of the seeds land where they where they actually take root and flourish. Jesus' listeners would naturally wonder, what is wrong with this sower?
We have similar problems with the way God is described in other parables of Jesus: God as the owner of a vineyard who engages in unfair hiring practices by giving those who work only the last hour of the day the same wages as those who labored in the hot sun all day; God as an irresponsible shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to fend for themselves in order to search for one that is lost; and God as prodigal father, who not only forgives a younger son who has wasted half of his estate on dissolute living, but throws a party for him! These images of God are certainly not the first ones that come to mind when we contemplate the creator and sustainer of the universe. Yet, as disciples of Jesus, they are meant to give us a keen insight into what God - called "Abba" (Daddy) by Jesus - is all about by turning our usual expectations about "how things should be done" on their head.
God as this profligate sower that casts seed everywhere is Jesus' way of describing what we read in the beautiful passage from Isaiah that speaks of God's word being lavished on the earth like the rain and snow. God's word is for all - not just those who are in a position to welcome it. We are called to imitate God who makes the word known even to those who we might judge unable to profit by it - on the off chance that hearing the word might be fruitful. This parable also encourages us to evaluate what kind of welcome we give God's word - shallow, superficial, divided or wholehearted.
By turning our expectations about God on their head, Jesus' parables help us to contemplate a God who goes beyond our narrow imaginations and challenges our cramped assumptions. Lest we think that we have God "figured out" it is Jesus' description of God as an extravagant sower, an irresponsible shepherd, and a prodigal father that calls us to both humility and thanks as we bear the word with patience and perseverance to a world that may not always be ready to receive it.
Fr. Mark R. Francis, CSV