On Sunday, we got an interesting take on the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23).

We often read it as a parable about how we ought to hear the Word and respond to it. We get the message that we should try not to be those people who don’t understand, or who are shallow or preoccupied. We should try to be the good kind of soil that provides a good growth medium for that seed/word.

But our preacher of the day pointed out that in farming – which he knows a thing or two about, having grown up on a farm – the condition of the soil is typically the responsibility of the farmer. If you’ve got good, deep soil, free of weeds, with plenty of water, it has something to do with all the plowing and harrowing and irrigating the farmer has already done.

Plus, there’s Isaiah 55:10-11, in the other reading for the day:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

That sounds mighty definite and determined. It could make us wonder whether a farmer like that might ever throw seed on the path or in the weeds on purpose, like to feed those birds, or to make it easier to see those weeds.

Certainly it will remind us that the preparer of human hearts is God. Ultimately, God is the one doing the conditioning and cultivating, choosing the seeds and doing the sowing, all of that activity according to God’s purpose. All of it aiming at an outcome that is vaster than we have imagined imagining.

Assuming people are the soil in the parable, we need to remember that soil doesn’t plow and harrow and irrigate and cultivate itself.

From an experiential perspective, we know that sometimes we hear and understand better than others; some words get through to us better, and have more impact on us, than others. Some days, it seems, we’re the path, others the field – or so we hope. And that probably has something to do with the purposes of the sower.

We can trust that God is arranging messages, experiences, appeals, interventions if you will, for specific purposes, to bring about something far bigger than we see or appreciate right now. We can trust that whatever that is, it’s good, uniquely good.

All of which means we don’t need to beat ourselves up for the kind of soil we are at any given moment. Whatever the state of things, we’re in good hands. We can rest in the assurance that God knows what’s needed, and is always already bringing things along.

Having gone a few conversational rounds with my daughter, I’m sensitive to the way a message like this brings up objections related to “but then, what about …” all the horrible things we stumble over in these human heart fields, the wickedness, and the loss and suffering and trauma.

She would like a detailed explanation for everything, solid evidence that things are on the right track.

I wish I had that for her. Instead, I have what I always end up with, which is just having to trust that there is a bigger picture, a grand scheme of things, an ultimate outcome, that makes this work. That if there were such a thing as informed consent in the universe (which there might even be, one never knows) we would give it, on the basis of that ultimate outcome, which when we ultimately get to it will, we will actually agree, more than justifies everything it has taken to get to it. Even the wickedness, and the loss and suffering and trauma.

Theodor Adorno said something to the effect that what we want from redemption, if we’re honest, is nothing short of the revocation of past suffering. I imagine that’s what the author of Ephesians had in mind as God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in” Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

I do, actually, trust it, even though some days it seems more like wishful thinking than like “warranted true belief.”

And then there are days like this past Sunday morning, blue sky, full sun, trees summer full of deep green leaves, just enough breeze …

For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55:12-13
painting of a Flemish wedding banquet in the 16th century