For July 13, 2014: Fifth Sunday of Pentecost, Proper 10, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 55:10-13

The reading from Isaiah, written as exiles were returning from Babylon to what was left of Jerusalem, takes the Lord’s voice in comparing rain and snow to the Word: both come down from heaven to bring the blessing and fruitfulness intended by the Lord.

The Response            Psalm 65:9-14

Psalm 65 was composed during the period of the return from Babylon. Verses 9 through 15 probably commemorate the end of a terrible drought. By God’s grace come the rains, the seed for planting, the harvests, and the flocks and herds.

The Epistle            Romans 8:1-11

The epistle to the church at Rome amounts to a short course in theology. In previous chapters the apostle Paul has analyzed our existential quandary: we cannot possibly hope to save ourselves. Nevertheless, Paul now tells us, we have hope: it is in God’s grace, which is exactly what allows us to live according to God’s Spirit.

The Gospel            Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9 deploys imagery from agricultural life that would have been familiar to first-century rural Jews. In Jesus’ time, and even in ours, a yield of sevenfold—seven times as many seeds reaped as sown—would have been very good: even the smallest yield of this good soil is spectacular.

 

Further thoughts

The reading from Isaiah, the psalm, and the gospel all invoke the bounty of God’s creation, though each takes this in a different direction. Psalm 65 praises God’s provision of water and grain: water smoothes the furrows and makes the harvest possible. Isaiah’s God announces the fruitfulness as an accomplishment for God’s glory and the restoration of Israel. In Matthew, Jesus contrasts the nonexistent return from seed sown in adverse conditions with a staggeringly rich harvest from sowing in good soil and subsequently explains that the varying conditions represent different hearers of God’s Word.

In failing to continue the agricultural metaphor, the epistle to the Romans seems anomalous; one could say it comes out of left field. It notes, though, that it is God moving in us that makes us as fruitful in the spirit as we are. That is God’s grace—but it is also up to us to “set our minds on the things of the Spirit”, as verse 5 says: being open to receiving grace requires some movement on our parts.

But Matthew’s sower sows in all conditions, rather than prudently saving the seed just for the soil where it is likeliest to sprout. This reminds me of Matthew 5: 45, which we read last week for Independence Day: our God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” What if being children of the Father in heaven means letting go of the right to judge not only whether we ourselves are worthy of grace but also which of God’s children deserves the good things—from decent wages and housing and health care and education to forbearance and grace—that we crave for ourselves and those we love? What if our task and joy is to sow goodness as freely as God?

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