Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10 (15)
Ps. 65:9-13; Is. 55:10-13; Mt. 13:1-9, 18-23
By Jason Wood
Seeds, seeds, seeds.
Three of six of the appointed texts for today talk about them. The Psalmist refers to seeds implicitly, praising YHWH as the source of life-giving rains, fertile fields, and abundant harvests. Isaiah meditates upon seeds as the inevitable byproduct of the rain watering the earth, assuring his audience that, in the same way, God’s word is fruitful and effective. And Matthew relates one of Jesus’ most well-known parables, one of broad-scattered seed, thwarted growth, and stunningly rich production from the few that fall on good soil.
As a farmer in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood grappling with inner city realities of addiction, mental illness, and gentrification, I love seeds. I have planted tens of thousands of them, most in a small greenhouse under a bridge, near the railway tracks, in a city block zoned for light industry. And “light industry” it is indeed, as the sun’s rays heat those little seed trays, and one or two weeks later – presto! – the first sprouts appear above the soil. It’s like magic, every time.
Three or four more weeks, or a couple months for our tomatoes and peppers, and I and a few others are planting those seedlings, tamping down the soil around them to secure them, then watering them so the roots can begin to extend into their new surroundings. The occasional passerby looks in through the fence as we work in what used to be a parking lot or the previous home of a gas station, now filled with row upon row of black plastic boxes, each laden with soil. She asks us what we’re planting.
“Kale!” my coworker shouts, with pride.
Several more weeks, and my co-workers and I are out once again in our urban fields, stripping nutrient-rich leaves off the growing kale plants and tying them in bunches, each reminiscent of an elegant floral arrangement. Then each bunch is washed, packed, and distributed, going to either a trendy restaurant eager to capitalize on locally grown food, or to one of the proliferating number of farmer’s markets that happen throughout the city.
So yes, I love seeds. I love, too, the hope they instill in me and my co-workers, many who have been through Hell and wonder whether things will ever change: Will I beat my addiction? Will I find better housing? Will I get to see my kids again? Each seed carries a promise in its own journey from tiny speck to hardy, fruit-bearing plant. One bag of tomato seeds, smaller than a pack of cards, can more than fill a 200-ft long greenhouse, creating a forest of green leading up to a dense thicket of branches, flowers, and fruit so high you can barely reach it. There’s hope for you!
Every time I think about this miraculous process, I’m drawn me to wonder at the mystery of Life and the Creator. It’s a wonder that the Psalmist knew well, along with anyone who’s taken the time to stop and gaze lovingly at a world dazzling in its intricacy, diversity, and beauty.
And in its power. Because ultimately that’s what Isaiah is on about, what draws him to point to the rains as evidence for God’s ability to accomplish God’s purposes. There is an unrelenting, ongoing, dynamic power present in the cycles of creation. That power is trustworthy, more so than any human invention, so prone to break down or be rendered obsolete by a fancier, shinier model. It’s fruitful, unlike civilization’s efforts to engineer the world to better align with our priorities, the barren consequences of which are so fittingly symbolized by Monsanto’s “terminator” seeds. And it is unstoppable. For all our hubris and hot air, the rains will come, the sun will shine, the “pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy” (Ps. 65:12). This despite us! If human beings continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, soil our nest with plastics and oil and toxic chemicals, and thereby exacerbate the suffering of the world’s poorest people and of countless endangered species, the power of creation and of Life will endure – precarious, certainly; destabilized temporarily, to be sure – but, make no mistake, it will have its way. With or without us.
And it’s all there in the seed. This tiny capsule of dynamic energy and power, harnessing in its humble container the wild, fecund life of the world.
I think Jesus’ parable demonstrates this whole dynamic of creation so accurately, as he speaks of sower and seed, sharing with unflinching realism the barriers to growth faced by Life and by God (which are, after all, one and the same), yet also the abundance, the unanticipated bounty that will come from receptive soil and hearts. One good seed yields an exponential harvest. One healthy patch of garden multiplies to fill the world.
For those who have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear”, these divine seeds are planted all around us: in little opportunities for compassion, in the environment of support built at the farm where I work, in seemingly insignificant choices to pursue justice, in every act that builds community and demonstrates care. They are small, yes. But like the good seed, they will endure, multiplying 30, 60, or even a 100 times beyond anything we might ever know.
Jason Wood is a white settler, learning to live responsibly on unceded Coast Salish territories in the city of Vancouver. He is currently transitioning from six years of work with social enterprise Sole Food Street Farms, to managing his own small urban farm. He also organizes with Earthkeepers: Christians for Climate Justice, a grassroots, ecumenical movement “working out biblical teachings in regard to ecology, love of neighbor, and climate justice.”
Wild Lectionary, a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in scripture, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.