The radical sower

When you the parable of the sower, I wonder what picture comes into your mind? I’ve always seen someone walking along with a basket of seeds, scattering handfuls of them.

I wonder what the parable means to you? I’ve often heard this parable explained in a spiritual way, the idea being that the way people respond to God is represented by the different area in which the seed is sown. So, for example when the seed is sown on rocky ground, and the birds take it away, this is explained as people who have heartedly accept God, but it doesn’t take root. This is an important understanding, and a challenge to twenty-first century life, but as with all good stories, there’s more than one way of understanding it.

If we consider what was going on in the politics and in the society at the time of Jesus, there might be another way of looking at things. There was brutal oppression by the Romans. In no way was their imperial rule benign or benevolent. There was brutal oppression of Jewish uprisings, Herod and those like him were at least as brutal any dictator you care to name in our day, all funded by burdensome taxation which caused real poverty and hardship.

If we bear that in mind, then I think we can see the parable in another way. In fact, it can even take on a different and subversive message. I want to suggest considering this as a parable about domination: the sower sows the seed, and the birds come and take it away. In biblical times ‘birds’ was often a code for the gentiles. Knowing that, is it beyond the realms of possibility that Jesus was suggesting that although the ordinary people sowed the seed to try and eke out a livelihood, it was being taken, through land seizure and taxation by the Romans and their supporters?

In the parable, we’re also told of the weeds that choke the seed. As the farmers gathered the crops, the henchmen of Herod would be there at the threshing floor to take their cut, the tributes, rents and taxes. Could it be that this is a story about the justice for oppressed people?

These are issues that are very much still around in our world today. The fairtrade movement is under considerable pressure because people think that’s been done, when what we need is serious trade justice. Workers are still exploited in Britain and around the world. Too much international aid still has too many strings attached, which, however well intentioned, don’t help people in the developing world. The point of this on our eco-church Sunday is that this all raises ecological questions about multi-nationals and cash crops, and how local people should be able to use their land.

This radical reading of the parable of the sower, suggests that if the exploitation is not taking place: if land (or water) is not being monopolised: if poor people are not having to pay out unreasonable taxes so finance can’t be ploughed back into the land, then the land can produce sufficient for all. It’s a parable about justice, justice for the poor and an ecological justice.

The definitive text is given at verses 1-4. Verses 1A and 3A are earlier versions but the definitive text should be used wherever possible.

I’m going to end, and lead into our time of silence for reflection, by reading some words by Fred Kaan:
For ourselves no longer living,
let us live for Christ alone;
of ourselves more strongly giving,
go as far as he has gone:
one with God who chose to be
one with us to set us free.

If we are to live for others,
share as equals human worth,
join the round of sisters, brothers,
that encircles all the earth:
all the fullness earth affords,
is the people’s, is the Lord’s.

Fighting fear and exploitation
is our daily common call;
finding selfhood, building nations,
sharing what we have with all.
As the birds that soar in flight,
let us rise towards the light.

Let us rise and join the forces
that combine to do God’s will,
wisely using earth’s resources,
human energy and skill.
Let us now, by love released,
celebrate the future’s feast!

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