June 2017 – Garden variety parables

Our garden was in the ground and growing much earlier this year than last. Too early for some seeds, which never made it up through cold ground. A little early for others, who took their  time…waiting till ground warmed… before finally poking up above surface. Just right for collards, chard, kale, arugula – I’ve just harvested our first cut of greens. Some cukes, squash and beans are up… Tomatoes are in the ground, looking ok. The garden’s looking pretty good today. Although… I still sometimes wonder if time spent in the garden is worth it. So many other things that should also be done… are also crying out for my attention…

But there is something about working with the soil that helps me connect more deeply with the biblical stories. Our bible group is reading and discussing Genesis, where we’ve been reminded the Hebrew word adam – meaning human – comes from the word adamah – meaning humus, earth, ground, or land. And in the beginning our first God-given work was simply gardening…

In the gospels Jesus often speaks in parables using images and metaphors from agriculture. And in a recent session of our Bourne and Cataumet Worship Committees we heard suggestions for a sermon series on “contemporary parables.”  Which I’m contemplating now while close to the ground amidst seeds and weeds of the garden…

Our lectionary reading schedule has us spending extended time in Matthew’s gospel this year, and chapter 13 of Matthew is one of the bible’s longest extended series of parables. The first and longest is often called “the parable of the sower” (though it seems more about soil than sower). The next and second-longest is the so-called parable of “wheat among weeds.” Followed then by a parable about mustard seed, another about buying a field, yet-another about baking bread with flour, the fruit of the field… (There’s also one about jewelry from shellfish – and yes, one about fishing… But I’m trying my best to not think about these till another day.) And all these parables, Jesus says, are about the kingdom of heaven. Go and figure.

As I watch weeds starting to grow like topsy in our garden, I do catch myself liking the parable of the wheat and weeds growing together, where the owner of the field tells workers not to pull weeds till harvest, lest good wheat be pulled up with the weeds. It’s nice to feel like I’ve got heavenly permission to sit back and leave it to the harvest crew to sort out…

Though I’m soon reminded… A parable is seldom intended to be taken literally. (Would it even be a parable if it was?) Remembering also I have a tendency to sometimes confuse gospel hope with wishful thinking…And remembering now the book on parables I read last winter – The Parables of The Kingdom, by Robert Farrar Capon, who writes:

“Jesus spoke in strange, bizarre, disturbing ways. He balked at almost no comparison, however irreverent or unrefined. Apparently he found nothing odd about holding up, as a mirror to God’s ways, a mixed bag of questionable characters: an unjust judge, a savage king, a tipsy slave owner, an unfair employer, and even a man who gave help only to bona-fide pests. Furthermore, Jesus not only spoke in parables, he thought in parables, acted in parables, and regularly insisted that what he was proclaiming could not be set forth in any way other than parables….”

I’ve perhaps now already said a bit more than necessary about the challenge of hearing the parables anew, as if just spoken by Jesus directly to us… But we do live in strange and challenging times, where not everyone knows food isn’t manufactured in the back room at the supermarket. Not everyone knows the taste of garden-fresh food…and the life-giving parables of Jesus…

So, please, help me figure out how to restate, paraphrase, translate, and do whatever it takes to communicate the good news in this day and age, by whatever means the Holy Spirit and sanctified imagination permit. Let’s read the garden-variety parables of Matthew chapter 13 for starters. Let’s pray and keep reading till they speak back to us. Let’s share what we’re hearing with each other….

May we find divine joy growing abundantly in the garden of Jesus’ parables. May our Master Gardener continue to bless us always,

Pastor Tim