The Parable of the Sower

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 — Week of 2 Epiphany (Year One)

Phillips Brooks, Bishop of Massachusetts, 1893

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 944)

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)

Isaiah 44:24 – 45:7

Ephesians 5:1-14

Mark 4:1-20

The Parable of the Sower

This is no way to farm. The Sower is wasteful and extravagant, throwing seeds everywhere, even in places where common sense would tell you nothing could grow — on a sidewalk, among the rocks. Yet even the seed that lies unfruitful on the path becomes a windfall for the birds.

When Mark offers an allegorical interpretation of the parable, the seed has two interpretations. It is both the word and the ones who receive the word. God distributes grace abundantly; God’s word is broadcast extravagantly; God’s eternal unqualified love is joyfully squandered. God is willing to extend grace and love and compassion profusely, even wastefully, in the hope that some of God’s goodness will take root and multiply.

Our reading in Isaiah reminds us that good soil can happen in the unexpected place and person. Isaiah writes an oracle of praise of the Persian ruler Cyrus. Cyrus follows another God; he is not Jewish. Cyrus does not even know the God of the Jews. Yet Isaiah calls him “my shepherd” and “anointed.” These are the traditional biblical words for the dynasty of King David and for the Messiah. “I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me,” the Lord says to Cyrus through the word of the prophet. Isaiah is convinced that God has raised up Cyrus to overthrow the Babylonian oppressors. Isaiah sees God’s hand moving in history through Cyrus, using an outsider as God’s means for blessing.

I often think of the Parable of the Sower as a metaphor for my own life and spirit. God has scattered God’s Word and grace abundantly, even wastefully, in my life. Some of it has been wasted. I simply didn’t get it. Sometimes I respond readily but without the depth and discipline that allows the divine presence to take root. When I run into obstacles, I forget, and go back to my old habits relying on my own resources. And some of God’s grace and God’s Word has taken root and proved fruitful.

Like Isaiah, I have found God’s presence and activity outside the circle of my own faith. I have been blessed by God’s anointed such as Tich Nhat Hahn the wonderful Vietnamese Buddhist who teaches mindfulness and peace, the inspiring vision of nonviolence from the Hindu Gandhi, the transparent holiness of the Dalai Lama, the eloquent wisdom of the Moslem Sufi poet Rumi, and the grounded theology of Rabbi Martin Buber, to name just a few. These have been anointed shepherds for me.

God’s grace is extravagant; God’s presence is ubiquitous. Occasionally it finds root and is fruitful.

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