Thought for the week - 12 July 2020
Published on Saturday, 1 August 2020 00:00
Isaiah 55: 10-13, Psalm 65, Romans 8: 1-11, Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Almighty God, send down upon your Church the riches of your Spirit,
and kindle in all who minister the gospel your countless gifts of grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea” (Mt 13:1). Clearly a lovely day. The sea was calm, the sun was out and not too strong. Perhaps a couple of donkeys giving rides. Very pleasant scene. But then again …
We have no idea why Matthew should introduce the parable in this way, and while Mark and Luke also tell the parable of the sower, only Matthew tells us that Jesus leaves the house. I find a challenge here. I doubt very much that Matthew is giving us a holiday-brochure image of Jesus, lolling next to the sea on a lovely morning enjoying a day by the seaside. Holidays like this are a modern invention for those who have the means. Besides, this sea is rough, even treacherous. And while it may be the place of work for those whose living is to catch and sell fish, it is a very dangerous place. And the house? Well, as we appreciate, house is a place of security, a place of hospitality, a place of family. So, Matthew gives us a picture of Jesus leaving security to face approaching danger. Hearers who know, will sense the tension here.
And then Matthew tell us Jesus goes into a boat, right into danger, sits down – the classic position of a teacher - to tell them “many things”. While this is not the first parable in Matthew, it is the first time the word “parable” is used. We may associate parables with children’s stories, or easy to understand lessons. Don’t be fooled. This is not how the word was used by the ancients. Parables are riddles, proverbs and illustrative stories, but their lesson is often shocking and offered in unexpected ways. A bit like Jesus, here in the boat, just out of reach, yet the crowds can hear him. Easy to hear, but out of reach.
These past months have been a bit like both these elements of the story: dangerous and not easy to grasp. I have certainly felt safe at home, but not so sure when I’m outside. And when I see others out and about, I notice we’re all taking very wide berths around each other. Getting a handle on this virus? Well, if only!
Jesus then goes on to tell a parable of grain being spread, generously, even recklessly, apparently far and wide. Who’d intentionally sow grain where it’s not likely to grow? No one, but I hear an echo of the Isaiah reading here. Isaiah says God’s word is like rain and snow which come down, watering the earth, making plants grow and then return (Is 55:10). This sending, watering and returning, the prophet says, leads to rejoicing and peace, so much so, that even the mountains burst into song and the trees clap their hands (v12). This is the joy and peace God brings.
The psalm is even more surprising. We’re offered an image of the earth being watered and enriched (Ps 65:9), an image we love, but another, of God silencing the dangerous and roaring sea, silencing even the tumult of the people (v7), resulting in joy for all.
How much we reach for this joy, this peace, this calming in our tumult. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic we do not understand and about which we are ever so fearful. Even now we’re challenged by the sower to yield much grain. Challenged to listen, to hear if we have ears to hear, to recognize that our life and our world are in God’s hands. Hands of punishment, but of generosity, of peace, of joy and of plenty. Even during pandemic.
Eternal God, giver of love and peace,
you call your children to live together as one family.
Grant us grace to learn your ways and to do your will that our lives may reflect your justice and your peace to all we meet,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen