I grew up with gardens and going to farms with my family. My parents would — and still do — grow all manner of plants, cucumbers, chives, lettuce, and a slightly bitter, minty leaf plant called perilla or gaenip, which is what my mother call’s the “summer kimchi.” Whenever we would walk in parks or zoos, they would examine all the plant life and argue whether something that looked like a weed was edible and worth harvesting. Turning over the dirt, being on my knees, pulling up weeds — all of this feels natural to me.
For the listeners gathered together with the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel, as well as those who would later receive these testimonies in the seedling of a church community, an agricultural sensibility was part of their daily lives. It informed their storytelling. As soon as Jesus said the word, “a sower,” his audience tracked with him. But we know Jesus used these earthy parables to uncover some of the hidden mysteries of God’s kingdom all around them, even if he lifted the veil only slightly with each story. He went on to paint an idyllic picture, simple and straightforward, a kind of folk tale. But at the end, there was a twist: “Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Our attention is drawn to the seeds, and what happens to them. Some are scattered on the rocky path, others on shallow soil, and still others fell among greedy thorns. Traditional interpretations tend to focus on the obvious failures of the first three examples of soil to nurture the seeds to a huge harvest. Others see the various soils as a kind of progression from unhealthy to healthy. And others invite us to see the birds and weeds as more than mere obstacles or barriers to overcome, but realities in our lives that require thoughtful engagement.
Lately, I see the whole picture differently because of recent conversations with Nate Stuckey, director of the Farminary Project, which works to integrate theological education with small-scale, sustainable agriculture on a 21-acre farm at Princeton Theological Seminary. Good soil is impossible to sustain all the time. Fertile ground is not the gift of perfection, but the product of a relationship with all the elements around it – adverse and advantageous.
Various kinds of soils, and stages of soil cultivation, are necessary for planting and harvesting later. Forcing growth and productivity all the time is basically impossible, as the soil must lay fallow for a period of time, to rejuvenate, and rocks aid in that rest. Thorns and weeds are a reminder that we need to constantly attend to the soil, and that to pull up these unwanted plants sometimes risks pulling up the desirable, good plants, something Jesus seems to hint at earlier in Matthew when talking about the wheat and chaff.
We could spend hours gleaning wisdom from these agrarian images. But I am suddenly less interested in the harvest, as my gaze returns to the sower, and how he scattered the seeds in what seems like a haphazard manner. If he really cared about the harvest, why wasn’t he more responsible? More intentional? More deliberate in where he laid those seeds down?
In the video above, we might get a small glimpse at the possibility of an answer from Jas Singh, founder of God’s Little Acre in British Columbia, a charity farm that has given away thousands of pounds of vegetables every year since 2011. He says, “The plan for the farm is to plant the seed in different communities — not seeds of growing, but seeds of inclusion.” The focus of his farm is not production, but invitation — to allow all manner of flesh-and-blood to participate in the mysterious and divine but simple work of God’s kingdom — one where everyone who is fed, and those who typically don’t have the means to provide actually find they have an abundant harvest to share with their neighbor. It is a way to radically engage in leveling the field for all to give, receive, and partake in a way that doesn’t match our unjust economic structures.
We have the realities of those oppressive structures all around us through the way we limit access to certain resources — whether health care, housing, or food — as a way to care for certain bodies. As Leah Penniman, the director of Soul Fire Farm, explains, “Food apartheid is a human-created system of segregations, which relegates some people to food opulence and other people to food scarcity. It results in the epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other diet-related illnesses that are plaguing communities of color.” This farm is run by Leah, her husband, their two children, and a host of volunteers who deliver food to the doorsteps of those who lack access, and accept SNAP as payment. Each week, they provide a delivery of 10-15 nutrient-rich, naturally produced vegetables directly to the doorsteps of Capital District families living in communities affected by food apartheid. Penniman says, “If we want a society that values black lives, we cannot ignore the roles of land and food.”
The divine mystery of God’s presence and kingdom is discovered when all bodies are a part of the work, and invited to the table to participate and enjoy the bounty of the land. The Parable of the Sower affirms that we have a hand not only in tilling the soil of hearts and communities, but in scattering seeds of hope that will feed multitudes. These seeds of hope cannot be limited by our imagination. When we welcome the continuous possibilities of how the soil will be shaped by birds and rocks, hands and feet, we make room for the possibility of the kingdom to flourish in undeniable and irresistible ways.
Via ON Scripture.