“A sower went out to sow…”


I would like to express belated best wishes to all of the good mothers and grandmothers of our parishes and schools. I hope that Mother’s Day was a joyful celebration of gratitude to mothers for their love and devotion. Mother’s Day is also a traditional time to turn to yards and gardens as the land shakes off the vestiges of winter. I have been doing some gardening myself and I have been thinking about the Bible’s frequent use of language and imagery taken from agriculture, animal husbandry and fishing.
In our own time, many of us have grown distant from these more “earthy” occupations. With the industrial revolution and the rise of the cities and suburbs, farmers, fishermen, ranchers and shepherds have become a small minority. Most people buy food in markets and know little of the daily life and routine of the folks who raise or catch the food we eat. For all our interest in “organic” produce, we can forget that we too are organic. We ourselves are a part of the natural world.
I wonder if our distance from nature distorts our conception of what it means to be human. Contemporary stories sometimes imagine people “switching” bodies or imagine a sci-fi future where people are disembodied and dwell on through technology. Have we forgotten the biblical truths that we are flesh and bone? We are created in the image and likeness of God holistically, body, mind, emotion and spirit. There is not a division between our biology and our identity.
Jesus draws upon the biblical traditions and the culture of his own day with many parables and images from the daily lives of farmers, shepherds and fishermen. He offers parables of the sower and the seed, wine and wineskins, and the image of the vineyard for God’s people. John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God.” Jesus even refers to himself with such imagery: “the vine and the branches,” “springs of living water,” “the good shepherd,” and the seed that must go into the ground and die to produce much fruit.
While we might be more distant from the land than people in prior ages, the timeless wisdom of the Scriptures and the rhythms of life close to the land or sea have much to teach us for our own well-being and discipleship. One of the first lessons is patience. You cannot hurry the seed or make the fish bite. Our society is in a hurry, the natural world is slow and steady. We learn too that we are not and cannot be in control. We must work with and within nature in order to receive the bounty of land and sea. We learn that we are part of something larger and deeper than ourselves, stewards of creation and partners with the Lord. We begin to see the relationship that exists between us and the animals and plants that are our sustenance. They and the land itself are not so much property as trust. They will only feed and sustain us if we learn restraint and careful husbandry.
A good farmer, shepherd or fisherman is a person of steady commitment, patient endurance, earthy humility and abiding gratitude. These qualities do not exploit or destroy. They guard, cultivate and bring forth new life.
Of course, these qualities and virtues also enrich relationships and other areas of life. Jesus certainly taught them as proper to the spiritual life. Maybe growing things, raising flocks or working the sea is a part of your life. If that is the case, Jesus’ teachings might speak even more clearly to you. Even if you live in the “concrete jungle” and struggle to keep a houseplant, there are still ways to grasp the Lord’s teachings and connect with the natural world – a world that breathes the wisdom of God. So slow things down and get outside. Walk the beach, hike the trail, plant your seedlings, and remember that you are yourself a part of this marvelous Creation of the God of love.