Many of us would already be familiar with the very Eurocentric joke about the distinction between Heaven and Hell. You know the one that plays on the so-called nationalistic traits of different Europeans. It goes somewhat like this: Hell is where the Italians rather than the Swiss people are in charge. It is where the English rather than the French are the cooks. It is the cosmopolis where the Germans rather than the English are responsible for law and order. Finally, it's the place where the French - not the Germans - are responsible for all Engineering works and functions.
Why you may ask, does that joke continue to work as an apt (even frightening) description of Hell?
One of the reasons is that it hints at the shocking truth that hell is genuinely other people!
If other people would just stay in their pigeon holes, things would be just fine for us! All the time!
The trouble in life is that we cannot but mingle, relate, have conversations, with other people.
Some of them will lead us to the ecstasy of heaven.
Some of them will drive us to hell.
Now though, if you're thinking that today's Gospel gives us an easy way of avoiding the latter and clinging tightly to the former, you'd be wrong.
What today's gospel does is the very opposite. It asks us to engage in discussion, in conversation and relationship with everyone - in hope!
We are given the assurance of that hope in our readings from Isaiah 55.11: ”... the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They'll do the work I sent them to do; they'll complete the assignment I gave them.” - (MSG).
Apostle Paul also confirms God's dogged determination to prosper His purpose in us in his address to the Romans 8.11: ”It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!” - (MSG)
Matthew tells us, first by a parable and then quite plainly that God is determined to draw us into a conversation with Him and ultimately each other. Matthew reveals to us that we cannot avoid being part of the free-flowing conversations that God visits on all his creation. Besides, as Paul put it to the Romans 8.11: ”God isn't pleased at being ignored.” (MSG)
He is determined that we engage with and or respond to His bidding and piping to us.
So God, like a sower, goes about flinging His seeds (Word of redemption ) on every and any kind of soil.
He does so because that is God's means of stimulating human flourishing. God knows that without it, there's no prospect of the one harvest He is really after - His Heavenly Kingdom.
And so, God goes about flinging His seed with a profligacy that betrays both His abundance and hopefulness for a harvest.
By sowing His Word, we can deduce that what God is doing is initiating a conversation. He's making bidding to which he longs for a response. He's piping so that we can dance to the tune of the Lord of the dance.
However, the trouble is that (as we learnt last week) we are often like the children who would not dance. Sometimes, we refuse out of sheer stony wilfulness. Sometimes, we're distracted by cares of life - not all of them unnecessary. Frequently, it's because our lives are preyed upon by other spikey forces and thorny powers that limit our potential to respond.
But, thank God, there are the times when we are fully attentive and present with all our senses in response to conversations initiated by God.
The pertinent questions for us, though are this: Why does God tolerate these limitations? Why does He engage with such reckless disregard for all of our varying potentials to be refuseniks? Besides, why does He also settle for a 30 per cent yield?
The direct answer is that God does so to demonstrate that His essential nature is love and grace - freely given, undeserved and unearned. The sower revealed God's generosity. We are shown that at His very cor, God is compassion, forgiveness and redemption.
The parable illustrates a God who does not abandon even the wilfully errant ones. It introduces us to a God who will send His Word to the distracted and the imprisoned. He will stimulate our interest in Him and stir up our spirit to the cause of His Kingdom.
What's more, we meet a God who stands not just alongside those whose lives are a ’smash hit.’ He's as happy for us to be marginally successful. He is as thrilled when our harvest yields are small, as when our harvest fills up the barn.
Of course, what this implies is that there's good news for us when we feel that the road to heaven is tough. There is a possibility of a new creation for those times when we have to journey through episodes of hell.
It often does require: (i) that our lives and our world (as evident through the current COVID19 crisis) are thrown into Italian style chaos, or (ii) that the means for the sustenance our lives turn so awful like a meal prepared by the English, or (iii) that we find our confidential and domestic affairs become so mechanically ordered as if by the Germans, or (iv) that our bodily functions come to be so poorly framed like gadgets put together by the French, for us to hear, see and perhaps feel our way to heaven by the guide of God's Word.
The truth is, it is in such hellish binds that we come to value the light of God's Word. In such hellish moments, only God's word can help us to engage in conversations that help us aspire to the Hills, to lift our eyes to the crests of the Heavenly Kingdom of God.
Such conversations, help us to learn to show the toleration God has for each of us. Through such dialogues with God, we come to embrace God’s antipathy to the stony, thorny, distracting and oppressing issues that blight our lives and the world around us. By them, we form a sympathetic attachment to God's profligate generosity to others. Above all, we will assume a readiness to declare the Gospel of salvation to the others, with the same sovereign disregard for their fears, cares, distractions and wilfulness.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.