That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!" / "Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." - Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Christ at all hazards fruit hath shewed.”
In the following sonnet, Gerard Manley Hopkins turns the parable inside out with compassion. Everything holds the possibilities of fruit. Thorns provide the sacramental wine, the rocky ground brings forth the bread to feed the five-thousand, and birds, rather than devouring the seed, “bear Him to heaven on easeful wings” (meditation one).
The second poem puts into my mind the generosity of the Sower (meditation two). Finally, I'll know the fruits of the Sower's work in me by my deeds (meditation three). The Last Word acknowledges the greater environmental problems needing all of our immediate attention.
Ever gathering grapes from thorns, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) hazards transformed
Although the letter said On thistles that men look not grapes to gather, I read the story rather How soldiers platting thorns around Christ’s Head Grapes grew and drops of wine were shed.
Though when the sower sowed, The wingèd fowls took part, part fell in thorn, And never turned to corn, Part found no root upon the flinty road— Christ at all hazards fruit hath shewed.
From wastes of rock He brings Food for five thousand: on the thorns He shed Grains from His drooping Head; And would not have that legion of winged things Bear Him to heaven on easeful wings.
-Gerard Manly Hopkins 1844-1889
Sowing the seed, my hand is one with the earth.
Wanting the seed to grow, my mind is one with the light.
Hoeing the crop, my hands are one with the rain.
Having cared for the plants, my mind is one with the air.
Hungry and trusting, my mind is one with the earth.
Eating the fruit, my body is one with the earth.
-Wendell Berry Prayers and sayings of the Mad Farmer Collected Poems 1957-1982
October, Tres Riches Heures, Limbourg Brothers, 15th century
The Sower, Vincent Van Gogh (after Millet) 1889
Meditation Two (insight) The Sower
(Upon seeing 'The Sower' By Vincent van Gogh)
As day broke you scattered seed While a chorus permeated the vale A solitary figure with a fist of seeds Silhouetted by a rising spring sun
From a slung sack you grasped And dispersed it back and forth In the footsteps of your father And his father and so on
Bedding seed to germinate And flourish forth in order To feed animal and man To stave off their hunger
You are a sower by work But you are also An icon or image Of he or she who provides
Through you I see God The giver of life, the great Provider, scattering the seed Of love to and for all
Liam O Comain
(with permission of the author)
Meditation Three (integration) deeds which wisdom sows
Almighty God, your word is cast like seed upon the ground, /now let the dew of heaven descend and righteous fruits abound.
Let not our selfishness and hate this holy seed remove, /but let it root in every heart to bring forth fruits of love.
Let not the world's deceitful cares the rising plant destroy, /but let it yield a hundredhold the fruits of peace and joy.
-John Cawood 1775-1852
Sure of the spring that warms them into birth, The golden seeds thou trustest to the earth; And dost thou doubt the eternal spring sublime, For deeds--the seeds which wisdom sows in time.
-Friedrich von Schiller 1759-1805
The Last Word Those who will not learn in plenty to keep their place must learn it by their need when they have had their way and the fields spurn their seed. We have failed Thy grace. Lord, I flinch and pray, send Thy necessity.
-Wendell Berry We Who Prayed and Wept Collected Poems, 1957-1982
The Generous Sower
When I planted seeds for the first time my mother taught me this old proverb (which has many variations):
One for the mouse One for the crow One to rot And one to grow.
Of the seeds you plant, maybe one in four will grow, the adage said. Some versions have the wind or the rook taking away seeds as well. I like the idea of the birds and burrowing rodents sharing the abundance, the wind grasping seeds only to drop them into surprising places. I even like the realistic allowance for biological chance - some seeds folding back into earth without the quickening spark to initiate fulfillment of the life cycle.
The Sower is generous, profligate, even. I can't imagine wantonly throwing seed amongst rocks and thorns and pathways. Jesus means to make us laugh. What kind of sower sows with such excess, such uninhibited childish extravagance?
I no longer think of the thorns, the rocks, the pathways, the birds as “others” with us nice Christians as the fertile soil. I embody the infertility, the leaving to chance, the impossibly stubborn thorns, the immutable rocks, the shallow soil, the unprotected ground, the carelessly trodden pathways wide open for winged robbers and burrowing thieves.
But some patches of good rich soil receive the grace the Sower scatters with such playful abandon. And maybe that little bit is enough to multiply one hundred fold. I need not hoard grace - so you birds of the air, you little mice, feed your families, eat your fill. Plenty of grace for all.