Post Author: Rev. Merianna Harrelson
This is the fifth in a series of commentaries based on the Revised Common Lectionary texts in Year A that focus on plants. You can follow the series by clicking on the "Consider the Plants" tag at the bottom of this piece.
I first heard about Suzanne Simard’s Mothering Tree book on the On Being podcast where she was interviewed. In this interview, she described the wisdom that exists deep in the woods. Her research had uncovered that not only do trees communicate with each other through an underground root system using mycelium, but also they take care of each other by sending nutrients to young saplings who are struggling to thrive. As I listened, I knew I needed to read her book. Her description and observation of mothering trees is a perfect example of the body of Christ caring for each other.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – Parable of the Sower
Prayer of the Day
Creator God, seed word is the hardest work for us to accept because it is deep within our hearts and souls. Many times it takes a long time for any growth to be seen. Many times it seems our seed work has gone unnoticed. Help us hold onto hope, soak in the sun and rain, and look for sprouts of new life. Amen.
Although at first glance this passage may appear to be about soil, the admonishment from Jesus in this parable is about the importance of growing roots upon hearing the word of the Lord. Root systems are the foundation of forests and gardens. The roots of trees visible above ground display only a small portion of the system that gathers nutrients and spreads those nutrients throughout the parts of the tree. Researcher Suzanne Simard discovered through years of observation that simply replanting seedlings after trees have been harvested does not regenerate forests. Instead, the saplings have to be strategically planted to grow into the root systems of mother trees. These mother trees reach out using mycelium to care for the young saplings root-first. Once these saplings receive the nutrients they need via their roots, they begin to grow and thrive.
With the understanding of the importance of roots, the Parable of the Sower takes on new meaning. Jesus is instructing his disciples and modern readers to consider how the gospel takes root so that when storms come, they are not uprooted or swayed. Instead with a strongly rooted faith, they are anchored in the good work of bringing the kin-dom of God here on earth no matter the weather conditions.
Many preachers and teachers of this text have focused on the importance of spreading the good news of the gospel. While sharing the gospel is certainly a theme in this passage and an important aspect of becoming a follower of Christ, it would be interesting for preachers to look instead at what it means to plant the good news. Once planted deeply in good soil, that good news can take root in our lives, our words, and our decisions. As this rooting happens, we spread the gospel of hope and love. Examining our roots helps us consciously integrate Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel of Matthew into our everyday lives and decisions. As we do, we are enriching and expanding the roots of the ecosystem of Christ.
A practical application of this teaching would be to integrate ways that parishioners can stay rooted in the hope of the gospel and the teachings of Jesus. One spiritual practice to introduce or connect to this passage is grounding or earthing. Grounding is a way to reconnect our physical bodies and minds to the earth. Some people engage in this practice by walking barefoot on the earth. Others describe gardening as a grounding experience.
Root work in our spiritual lives is deep work, which is not easy to see. It takes a long time before new growth sprouts up and displays the transformation taking place underground. The Parable of the Sower reminds readers that it is this deep root work that will sustain us through the scorching sun, the beaks of hungry birds, and the winds of doubts that blow. Roots will uphold and remind readers of the truth and power of the gospel.
Roots by the River
Lord of Creation to You Be all Praise, Author Jack Copely Winslow, #541 Anglican Hymns Old and New
The Rev. Merianna Harrelson is the Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ. She is the author of Morning Light: A 30-Day Devotion Journey and Toast the Day: A 30-Day Prayer Journey. She is also a Spiritual Director.
Image by: Rev. Merianna Harrelson
Used with permission