At this point in the summer, the tomatoes thrive in our small raised-bed garden. Not the cilantro. To use Matthew 13:6’s language, my once luscious, tasty herb appears “scorched” and “withered away.”
The 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for July 10, 2011
“But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away…” (Matthew 13:6)
Echoing the agrarian concerns of Matthew 13, was the cilantro’s demise because of:
- Birds eating the tender leaves?
- Rocky ground preventing healthy growth?
- Each day’s scorching sun (an issue here in California’s Central Valley)?
- The presence of thorns?
No times four. My wife, after observing the cilantro’s failure, simply stated, “Snails.” Drats. Helix aspersa, or as the French might exclaim, escargot! Indeed, many of the “common” snails lurking in my garden have ancestors brought over from Europe during the mid-1800s. They hit American soil and did what any self-respecting Helix aspersa would do: endlessly, relentlessly breed.
Why didn’t Jesus mention snails as a danger to a sower’s future seeds? Easy answer: wrong climate. Snails weren’t a local threat for first century Palestinian farmers. For example, in the Bible thorns are mentioned at least 50 times. What about the snail count? Twice (Leviticus 11:30 and Psalm 58:8). And most scholars—yeah, if it’s in the Bible, even snails receive a scholarly, theologically-inclined analysis—would argue the Leviticus reference is really about a specific sand lizard. Lizards and thorns do well in the dry, desert climate. Not so much a snail.
My wife is right. Snails slimed us.
“Why didn’t they go after the tomatoes?” I asked.
My wife shrugged. “Who knows?”
Not surprisingly, a percentage of Jesus’ parables are farm fresh and garden ready. Many in Jesus’ day were directly linked to the earth: farmers, bread-bakers, potters, shepherds and so forth. Everyone knew the risks of sowing, nurturing and harvesting. Birds swooped down and plucked seeds. The sower, distributing his or her future food across the ground, would inevitably hurl some into rocky, thin-soiled spots. Therefore, when Jesus warned about birds and thorns and poor soil, his audience nodded. It had all happened to them.
And yet he wasn’t only talking about the first-century farmer scattering seeds or the twenty-first century suburbanite tending cilantro in a raised-bed garden.
This agrarian story invites us to look at the growth of our faith.
However, as with a sower in Jesus’ original audience, I could comfortably dismiss this story by rationalizing Jesus told it so people—others, them, those new or old or unfamiliar ones—would understand the “big picture” of faith. Some people get God, some don’t. Some people understand loving your neighbor, some don’t. First or twenty-first century, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink it. Folks come, or don’t come, to your church, and some of ‘em don’t stay. But it’s not my fault. They were thorny or bird-brained people, after all. Not like…me.
How easy for me to water down the Gospel message so it’s generic rather than specific. I like it when I can honestly claim the confrontational Bible stories are about other people and situations.
As I write these words, a jury of her peers found Amy DeLong, a United Methodist pastor in Wisconsin, guilty of breaking church law. She officiated at the marriage of a same-gender couple. But I believe it’s an outdated, misguided, Gospel-strangling law. I believe Rev. DeLong’s faith—her simple, generous, and reverent act to help celebrate love between two people—means she tossed seeds onto fertile soil. Those who found her guilty were thorny, bird-brained people. Or, to update the metaphor, they snailed her.
But still, you see, even though my view of Jesus’ ancient parable prompts me to decry what those “other” people did, I still must confront the snails in my own garden. On the day of DeLong’s verdict, I’m fairly certain I hurt another person by how I shared my opinion. I might’ve been too loud, strident and self-righteous. I may also have been correct in what I said. But still, HOW I did it, did hurt another. Self-reflection says—using Jesus’ first-century, out-of-date language—I spoke from a thorny, bird-brained place. Not from the good soil.
Did I snail another? In the next days and weeks, that’s what I will try to pray about and work on.
I don’t know why snails attacked the cilantro and left the tomatoes alone. My wife’s right. Who knows?
What I do know is I am always in the “great crowd” listening to Jesus and his words were are meant…for me.