16 July 2017
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 10A (RCL)
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
For Paul, the flesh is the arena in which we make distinctions between on and another: male/female, slave/free, Jew/Greek. Division is sin. We used the law to draw distinction, though it was intended to establish a righteousness, a community identity and cohesion. Therefore, in Christ, God did what the law couldn’t do, because we used it to draw distinction. He sent his son in sinful flesh to put the flesh (the realm of distinction) to death. And, now since we walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh, God has accomplished in us a new righteousness based on Jesus Christ, not on the law.
If we set our minds on the flesh, the realm of distinction, our minds are at war with God, and so we die. But if we die to the flesh and set our minds on the things of the Spirit, we are alive in God. And God will give life to our mortal bodies — we can live in that righteousness even in these bodies of flesh, because they have been transformed by the Spirit through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew has Jesus say that God makes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust, and the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. God isn’t much interested in the distinctions we draw. This parable reinforces the point. Sowing seed was a common metaphor for education in the ancient world. Usually, however, the metaphor focused on the preparation of the soil and the cultivation of what had been planted. This sower is an absolute idiot when it comes to farming technique. He just scatters his seed everywhere, not caring where he throws the seed. God’s kingdom is like that. God throws God’s gifts on everyone. Sometimes people receive them with gratitude, and produce a great harvest; other times, not so much.
Matthew, of course (following Mark), adds an allegorical interpretation. The seed is the word, the message or announcement of the kingdom. In that case, the sower is the disciples announcing the kingdom. The parable tells Matthew’s community not to worry overmuch about the results (shake the dust off your feet). In terms of an asceticism (how do we prepare our community/our hearts to receive the word), Paul’s advice is spot on: don’t set the mind on things of the flesh; don’t create distinctions where God doesn’t intend any. Trouble or persecution, the concerns of wealth and cares of the world — all these would be things of the flesh in Paul’s estimation. God pours out God’s blessings on all, so bring all within the bounds of the community of the new righteousness.