(Begin by reading the Gospel. Better yet, have someone read it to you. This particular Gospel has some great visuals. Close your eyes and listen.)
As you listen to the Gospel for this Sunday, imagine yourself somewhere in the scene.
Jesus leaves the house where he has been staying, and heads down to the beach by the Sea of Galilee. He only sits for a moment before people start to gather. They always come. That would tire most people out, but Jesus doesn't show it. He is so generous with his time. He will give the people what they want.
There is a boat anchored out a little ways in the lake. Jesus walks into the water and begins to swim. Some people splash out after him. "Just a minute," he calls over his shoulder, "just wait." He reaches the boat and hauls himself over the side. As his clothes begin to dry off in the heat, he seems to shimmer in the sun .
The crowd stands on the beach, some people balancing on the rocks, others finding the gravelly sand pleasant under their toes. They have been chatting and laughing as Jesus gets himself organized, but now they grow quiet, straining to hear. They shield their eyes against the sun. They cannot see his face clearly with his back to the sun-- will they be able to hear him? And then he begins to speak, and his voice--his voice with those words that draw people about him wherever he goes--can be heard clearly across the water.
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
The listening crowd knows something about grain. They know how it should be sown. They look at each other, little frowns forming over their eyes. What is Jesus talking about? No one in his right mind sows wheat this way.
No one sows wheat this way because it would be a HUGE waste. The problem is--and a couple of the farmers in the crowd raise their hands to tell Jesus what the problem is--you don't start sowing without first preparing the soil. The sower has not prepared the soil. He is wasting all those seeds, the ones that fall on the path, on the rocky ground, among the thorns. Those that do the math think, that's only 25% of the crop that he could have had.
"Only 25% yield," someone calls over the water to Jesus. "That's poor farming." A few people laugh.
One corner of Jesus' mouth lifts in a grin. "That's true," he says. "But this is about the sower."
"The sower is pretty generous with his seed," someone scoffs. "Generous to a fault." People begin to chuckle.
Jesus nods. "Also true. What can he do?"
"Tell him to take a look around before he starts sowing!"
"Step off the path before you start flinging the seed!"
"If you're getting pricked by thorns, you're in the wrong place!" Everyone is chuckling now.
"The thing is," Jesus says, "I don't think the sower is looking for advice. You're not going to change his ways."
The crowd falls silent again. They are starting to feel the heat from the sun. It makes them think about the seeds that fall on rocky ground.
A bunch of children push through the crowd and out into the lake. They reach down and pick up some of the rocks in the shallows. They hurl the rocks out to splash into the deep water. Ripples spread out and lap against the boat. "We could remove the rocks," one of them yells.
"Yeah, some of us could dig up the dirt and mix in compost. Others can scare off the birds while we cover the grain with a layer of rich soil."
"That could work," Jesus says slowly. "You got other ideas?"
"We'll keep watch for weeds. We can pull out the thorns."
"That's hard work," Jesus answers cautiously. "You up for that?" He begins to pull up the anchor.
The children splash further into the water. "If we work together, it won't be too bad." They look at each other and nod. "We can make it all good soil."
Jesus picks up the oars. "Listen," he says, "I'm rowing in to pick you up. Let's talk about this."
"He's got a plan," one of the adults says.
"It's not his plan," the children say. "It's the sower's."