In his teaching style Jesus of Nazareth was in many ways just like all the other rabbis. Yet there are certain points at which the teaching style of Jesus is utterly distinctive.
One of those ways is that he takes the simplest, most ordinary and familiar things to talk about the most complex, extraordinary and unfamiliar things. There is a great dissonance between what he is talking about and the way he talks about it. Consider the parable that we have just heard, of the sower going out to sow. Who is the sower? The sower is God. This is the God which the whole universe, not even the universe of the human mind and heart and imagination, can contain and yet this unthinkably great God is described by Jesus as a sower.
How ordinary humble and familiar could you be but that is the way it works. It’s a bit like the incarnation in general, where God becomes one of us. He takes flesh. Once again the dissonance is overwhelming. The God who becomes a human being; who is born, who grows and who dies.
So imagine, says Jesus, ‘here is God – a sower’. It does take a stretch of the spiritual imagination to imagine God as a sower. Yet it gets worse – because we are told the seed is scattered all over the place. Can you see the extravagance of God? This is ridiculous!
One thing I have learned in ministering to farming communities is that seed is very costly. You don’t just throw it everywhere. What would be true now would have been true back then. Seed was costly yet here we have a sower, God, who chucks seed everywhere. You’d think he wouldn’t throw it on the rocky ground or into the thorns but that’s what we’re told this God does.
So this God, this sower, is absolutely extravagant in a way that makes no sense. He is over the top. And who is the seed? The seed, we are told, is the word of God. And who is the word of God. It’s the word made flesh. Jesus is the seed which God sows with an utter extravagance that makes no sense. God, as it were, throws Jesus everywhere. There is nowhere that Jesus is not, this seed of God who is the word made flesh. Yet again there is the dissonance between Jesus, son of God, and seed which you can hold in your hand and scatter. Well scatter God does!
Then we have the soil. Now could there be anything more ordinary than soil. There’s a lot of it. Jesus speaks of good soil, and what does he mean? He means the human heart. So again something as ordinary as soil is Jesus’ way of talking about the mysteries of the human heart and all that makes the human heart good.
Open to receiving the seed – the word made flesh. Open to receiving Jesus. The heart that is open because it believes, because it hopes, because it loves. This is the good soil.
These are the deepest mysteries of the human heart and Jesus speaks of soil. Then there is one other thing which the seed needs even to grow in good soil, something of which Jesus himself does not speak but the prophet Isaiah does in what we have heard. He says, as the rain comes down from the heavens, “and does not return without watering the earth”. The seed, in good soil, needs water. Without water it will come to nothing – there is no life.
The seed is good, so too the soil. Yet the water, and here we speak of the water of baptism, and therefore we speak of the community of baptised. The seed will not grow in the good soil of the human heart unless there is the community of faith into which we have all been baptised. In that community you will also find the light which the seed will need to come to full growth. This is the light of Easter which blazes unfailingly with all our half-lights and darkness.
The light of Easter never fails in the community of the baptised – a vast family of faith and not just here in Brisbane. On Monday I head to Nigeria and there I will visit the diocese of Umuahia from where Fr Anthony Ekpo comes and which is our twin. Not our identical twin but our twin. That’s how big this family of faith is, the community of the baptised, yet it’s bigger still because this is a family that embraces heaven and earth.
Today we will bless this new icon of the saint who has given his name to this Cathedral – St Stephen. This icon of the Saint shall stand in the church that bears his name so we bless it. The icon of Stephen speaks of the communion of saints, that dazzling vision of the great community which the sower has brought to birth.
So there you have it – sower, seed, soil and water. These are everyday, ordinary, humble things that speak to us of the vast mysteries into which we have been immersed. In the end Jesus says that we, the community of the church, are something very ordinary, at times, downright tawdry.
We are something humble, something familiar, flesh and blood, men and women and yet a community of faith set by God in the world to speak of things which are far, far beyond us. We are set by God to speak of those vast mysteries in which not only we, the baptised, but the whole of creation is immersed.
Paul has said, in what we have heard, the whole of creation is ‘groaning in one great act of giving birth’. Well, so too is the Church. Birth itself has its ordinary aspects. It even has its pains and its pangs. Yet here we are, this Church, on this Easter day of Sunday. We are a people groaning in a great act of giving birth, when finally, beyond all the half-lights and the darkness, beyond all the weight of our own ordinariness, as Paul says, the sons and daughters of God will finally be revealed and the creation will see the bride of Christ – the Church – in all her unshadowed and unblemished beauty.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
July 13, 2014