Dori Dana Hudson says in the Mediocre Gardener, “Planting is its own special joy, quite separate from the harvest. I feel I would plant even if there were no harvest. Planting is a chance to touch the earth and see it respond. It is a chance to be part of God’s great creation.”
The season for planting is long over here in southeast Pennsylvania—at least until cool weather greens and grasses can be planted again in the fall. A mediocre gardener myself, I can tell you that my raspberry patch is finished producing and one tomato has already dared to take on a little tint of red in my garden. But in the scripture lesson this week, Jesus invites us to contemplate the act of planting, and to see it as a way of understanding how God works in our world. The kingdom of the heavens is like this, Jesus says: The sower throws seed out onto the soil. Some seed sprouts and then withers, some is choked out by weeds, some never finds the nourishment to grow at all, and some takes root and grows and produces excellent fruit. That’s the parable. If you didn’t have the interpretation that follows, what would you think Jesus meant? How could the kingdom of the heavens be like all that?
Like all the parables Jesus tells, this one invites participation. We the hearers are called upon to mull it over, to find our own way of making it make sense. At this point in my mulling it over, here’s what I’ve got: it’s not about blame. It’s not about what any seed or soil did or didn’t do to nurture the word of God. Some plants wither and some never grow at all—that’s not because the plants didn’t try hard enough. Sometimes a lack of growth happens and that’s just the way it is. And sometimes growth happens and excellent fruit is produced, in abundance, and that’s what we need to celebrate. Every seed we plant—every Sunday school lesson, every note sung, every service day activity, every sermon (no comment)—won’t come to fruition. That doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong. And it isn’t cause for despair. Because according to Jesus, the one in four that does thrive, produces enough fruit for all concerned. Planting is its own special joy, perhaps because we always have to trust that somehow, a little of the right combination of seed and soil will happen and the miracle of harvest will appear.