Jesus’ Parable of the Sower: Pete Seeger on Seeds and Sand

Pete Seeger

Readings for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 55:10-11; PS 65:10-14; ROM 8:15-23; MT 13: 1-23;

Last week, on the 4th of July, Amy Goodman replayed an interview with the legendary folk singer, Pete Seeger. In the course of the interview, Pete commented on today’s Gospel reading – the familiar parable of the Sower. His words are simple, unpretentious and powerful. They’re reminders that the stories Jesus made up were intended for ordinary people – for peasants and unschooled farmers. They were meant to encourage such people to believe that simple farmers could change the world – could bring in God’s Kingdom. Doing so was as simple as sowing seeds.

Seeger said:

“Realize that little things lead to bigger things. That’s what Seeds is all about. And there’s a wonderful parable in the New Testament: The sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of?”

Farmers in Jesus’ day needed encouragement like that. They were up against the Roman Empire which considered them terrorists. We need encouragement too as we face Rome’s counterpart headed by the U.S.

The obstacles we face are overwhelming. I even hate to mention them. But the short list includes the following – all connected to seeds, and farming, and to cynically controlling the natural abundance which is celebrated in today’s readings as God’s gift to all. Our problems include:

• Creation of artificial food scarcity by corporate giants such as Cargill who patent seeds for profit while prosecuting farmers for the crime of saving Nature’s free production from one harvest to the following year’s planting.
• Climate change denial by the rich and powerful who use the Jesus tradition to persuade the naïve that control of natural processes and the resulting ecocide are somehow God’s will.
• Resulting wealth concentration in the hands of the 85 men who currently own as much as half the world’s (largely agrarian) population.
• Suppression of that population’s inevitable resistance by terming it “terrorism” and devoting more than half of U.S. discretionary spending to military campaigns against farmers and tribal Peoples scattering seed and reaping pitiful harvests in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine.
• Ignoring what the UN has pointed out for years (and Thomas Picketty has recently confirmed): that a 4% tax on the world’s richest 225 individuals would produce the $40 billion dollars or so necessary to provide adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, education and health care for the entire world where more than 40% still earn livings by sowing seeds.
• Blind insistence by our politicians on moving in the opposite direction – reducing taxes for the rich and cutting programs for the poor and protection of our planet’s water and soil.

It’s the tired story of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. In today’s Gospel, Jesus quotes the 1st century version of that old saw. In Jesus’ day it ran: “. . . to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

Today’s liturgy of the word reminds us that such cynical “wisdom” does not represent God’s way. Instead the divine order favors abundance of life for all – not just for the 1%. as our culture would have it. For instance, today’s responsorial psalm proclaims that even without human intervention, the rains and wind plow the ground. As a result, we’re surrounded with abundance belonging to all:

“You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;
The untilled meadows overflow with it,
and rejoicing clothes the hills.
The fields are garmented with flocks
and the valleys blanketed with grain.
They shout and sing for joy.”

Because of God’s generosity, there is room for everyone in the Kingdom. The poor have enough; so poverty disappears. Meanwhile, the formerly super-rich have only their due share of the 1/7 billionth part of the world’s product that rightfully belongs to everyone.

To repeat: abundance for all is the way of Nature – the way of God.

Only a syndrome of denial – willful blindness and deafness – enables the rich and powerful to continue their exploitation. Jesus describes the process clearly in today’s final reading. He says:

“They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.”

Those of us striving to follow Jesus’ Way hear his call to open our eyes and ears. Conversion – deep change at the personal and social levels – is our shared vocation. That’s the only way to bring in God’s Kingdom. Individually our efforts might be as small and insignificant as tiny seeds. But those seeds can be powerful if aligned with the forces of Nature and the Kingdom of God. That’s true even if much of what we sow falls on rocky ground, are trampled underfoot, eaten by birds or are choked by thorns. We never know which seeds will come to fruition.

Such realization means:

• Lowering expectations about results from our individual acts in favor of the Kingdom.
• Nonetheless deepening our faith and hope in the inevitability of the Kingdom’s coming as the result of innumerable small acts that coalesce with similar acts performed by others.

Once again, Pete Seeger expressed it best:

“Imagine a big seesaw. One end of the seesaw is on the ground because it has a big basket half full of rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air because it’s got a basket one quarter full of sand. Some of us have teaspoons and we are trying to fill it up. Most people are scoffing at us. They say, “People like you have been trying for thousands of years, but it is leaking out of that basket as fast as you are putting it in.” Our answer is that we are getting more people with teaspoons every day. And we believe that one of these days or years — who knows — that basket of sand is going to be so full that you are going to see that whole seesaw going zoop! in the other direction. Then people are going to say, “How did it happen so suddenly?” And we answer, “Us and our little teaspoons over thousands of years.”

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

3 thoughts on “Jesus’ Parable of the Sower: Pete Seeger on Seeds and Sand”

  1. What a great homily, Mike. Thank you for the encouragement in these words. It often seems so futile, but I believe that “little things mean a lot”, and when enough of us respond to the call, positive change happens. We’ve seen it in our life time ~ in lots of ways. Keep on keeping on…..


    1. Thank you, Peggy. I needed the encouragement of these readings as well. It’s so easy to think that nothing we do makes any difference. The tide seems to be running against us. It must have seemed that way in Jesus’ day as well. Those cynical words “To him who has more will be given, and from those who have not, even what they have will be taken from them” characterize our day as well. In the face of such dire realities, Jesus’ words (and Pete Seeger’s) are encouraging.


  2. Thanks Mike.
    Again a very inspiring blog.
    I would like to look at it from a different angle if I may.
    It is intended not to contradict but to widen.
    From the “Now” versus “Hereafter” perspective.

    I remember Pete Seeger for his renditions of his having a hammer, a bell and a song.
    A hammer of justice, a bell of freedom and a song of love of our fellow man – rather than filling a bag with a hole, whether it be with seed, sand or protest!
    I had felt he meant one does not need a full bag to create critical mass or insistence on change in the sense that our protest only need consistency and passion – and then 10% full suffices – regardless where the rest falls. (As Peggy suggests).
    The opposite analogy being a small glass of agricultural rat poison destroying the whole trout stream if spilled in.
    My focus here is not when Kingdom comes or the wider meaning of the Jesus message.
    I dare to believe that’s sorted! I am no longer scared of religious threats.
    They are not in my Will!
    I have no need or mind for self flagellation – for what – bad thoughts?
    Like most egoists, and there are most of us, if we really search our motivation deeply enough, our worry is making sure all our “grandchildren” will live, not in fascism, Naziism, slaves to the Empire’s terror or Religious dogmatic coercion, which is the road we are going towards. But that they can enjoy the relative freedom we have now – free to strike the hammer, ring the bell and sing the song. Free to do anything as long as it does not interfere in the social balance of Nature and does not infringe others human rights.
    We used to call this “conscience” or the natural law!
    I grew up in a “priest” ridden society. Like many in the early nineties mother-and-child families experienced out of wed-LOCK ostracism, and all over again when men quit priesthood in the late 60ies it was more of the same contrived crime.
    We were shackled and the Church refused to relent and continued to threaten, denounce based on concocted morality.
    Then here in Ireland came fast economic growth and wealth – and the faithful broke loose and threw morality out with baby and suds. If the people are lied to by church, state and financial institutions, why should they do otherwise they ask.
    Looking at your clear point on Kingdom, as the Ancients, Prophets or modern followers of the God message concur – for those of us who choose to believe – our God is simply – one, almighty and Good.
    That all things come from him and all things are good.
    Whether it be holocaust, inquisition or good fortune.
    We just don’t see it clearly now…we are like St. Paul’s babes at birth, unable to see properly.
    But that is only a matter of time and revelation.
    In the meantime we can overcome.
    Getting back to your last blog – the worlds body for me with the most potent hammer, the most resounding bell and sweatiest song is mother church (not the stepmother) and it is full time we call them to order. We Strike!
    Francis today offers possible future solutions to clerical celibacy.
    Sounds like an oxymoron to me.
    Or something I heard before.
    A solution when Kingdom Comes or before 2020?


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