And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow…
some seeds fell on the path…
rocky ground… thorns… good soil.
This week’s text proves it: Jesus was definitely a carpenter, not a farmer. No farmer worth his or her salt would indiscriminately sow precious and expensive seed on all kinds of soil – the good, bad, and ugly. It’s wasteful. It’s bad farming. It is also bad storytelling – unless, of course, the point of the parable is that God is a lousy farmer.
In our eagerness to rescue the farmer from his own incompetence we are tempted to focus primarily on the soil (the soil illustrates our receptivity to the Gospel). But shifting our attention too quickly from the sower to the soil is a dangerous move. Moralism is the death of Christianity. The world has many moral management systems, but only one Gospel, and Gospel is always crazy stuff to those of us who manage morality.
I am reminded of a good friend who tells the story of his visit with a Benedictine monk. He asked the monk what he’d been thinking about lately. After a lengthy pause, the monk replied, “I’ve been contemplating the deficiencies of God.” He offered a few examples. God has a bad memory; God is always forgetting our sins. God is terrible at math; God leaves the 99 to save the one. God is wasteful; God scatters precious seed everywhere.
When seen through the lens of scarcity, God appears to us as the wasteful one. Another word for wasteful is prodigal. Yes, God is the “Prodigal Father” whose squandering makes the “prodigal son” look frugal by comparison.
Bad memory, bad math, wasteful. Imagine if we patterned our lives after the deficiencies of God. Imagine if we were a little worse at remembering the score with those who have wronged us. Imagine if we were a little less calculating with our lives. Imagine if we were a little less frugal in how we give our gifts. Imagine how much better the world would be if we shared the holy deficiencies of God.
I find it interesting that all of the heresies of the early church bent in the same direction… toward fashioning a loftier, higher, and more holy God than the one Jesus reveals to us. I get it. The picture of God that Jesus paints is a portrait (self-portrait) that just doesn’t seem very flattering at first glance and at times is downright offensive. Mercy and grace look like a deficiency to a fearful and violent humanity… until, that is, it is experienced, and then it is the only thing that really matters.
Like all heretics, I too am tempted to “improve” on the picture that Jesus paints. But let’s be clear: with every improvement, the God of our own creation becomes increasingly unreachable, impassable, and unknowable. That God becomes increasingly angry, judgmental, and violent – and ends up looking a lot like us. We are simply incapable of inventing the prodigal God of mercy that Jesus revealed. That’s why we call it revelation!
So, along with the “prodigal” leaders we serve, who are sowing seeds of love with reckless abandon like mad farmers, we invite you to contemplate the deficiencies of God this summer.
Waste more, want more!