Matt 13:1-9, 18-23 – Matariki & the Parable of the Sower

A Reflection by Dan Spragg

Matariki has been called our first truly New Zealand holiday – one that we have not borrowed or co-opted from some other place. A holiday for all Aotearoa to celebrate and enjoy. There is some hope and some firm instruction that this holiday, centred around the Māori new year, will not become a commercial venture as most, if not all other holidays have become including, of course, Easter and Christmas. I believe there has already been some backlash against one retailer who has subsequently withdrawn its campaign! There is much meaning in a Matariki celebration that has some good things to teach us, whether we are of Māori descent or not, for being a New Zealander is to acknowledge and be connected to the Māori world. Our founding documents intention, of course, was exactly this.

The story of ‘The Little Kiwi’s Matariki’ points us to the general elements of what Matariki means – a time for celebration with whānau – family, kai – food, a time for music, dance and fun. Centred around the end of the harvest season and the shortest day and marking the start of a new year it makes sense that it is also a time for remembrance – remembering those who have died in the past year, a time to be grateful for the present, and a time to look ahead to the year that is coming. These are good things to celebrate and be reminded of. There are a number of different stories around how the stars, known also as Pleiades, or Subaru, came to be in the sky, why they are there, and how they might help us. You may have heard one or two of these stories this last week. We’re going to watch a video now telling one of them – Matariki and the six sisters (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgxifXxMHAw).

I love the emphasis and the elements that each of the stars point us to. Tupuānuku – gifts of land – a reminder to take time to nurture our own gifts and skills. Tupuārangi – the sharing of song with the forests – a reminder to share our gifts with others. Waipunaārangi – as water makes its way from above to below and back again we are reminded that kindness given to others also goes out and returns to us. The twin stars of Waitī and Waitā remind us that as the insects work together to do amazing things, we can achieve far more together than on our own. Uruārangi, the youngest sister and her eagerness to listen and learn tells us that a good attitude is key to success, and finally, Matariki herself reminds us to look after those in our midst who are entrusted to our care, for we can help them truly succeed. All these, I’m sure you’ll admit are treasures to hold on to and good things to be reminded of as we look to the year ahead.

There is much in this that we can see, without too much struggle, that is in congruence with biblical themes and the teachings of Jesus and indeed in Jesus himself. I’m reminded of John 1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his home among us.” In Jesus, the very presence of Goodness became visible and relatable. This very Goodness that was present in the beginning and in the image of which humanity reflects. Goodness, the presence of God, embedded therefore in all humanity, embedded therefore, in all cultures, made most visible in Jesus but present in all time and place. I know because of this that I can deeply appreciate and learn from these elements of Matariki about how to live well. Live well connected to others. Live well in connection with our environment. Live well in connection with what I need and that which is good for me. We are richer for the presence of Matariki, its rightful inclusion in our yearly rhythms, and it’s revealing to us yet another angle on the presence of God in the world. 

Now, in particular, the focus on kai at Matariki with its links to looking ahead and preparing for next season’s crops easily links us to the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. I’d like to quickly pick up on a couple of things from this today.

A typical read of this parable makes the assumption that the seed = the ‘good news’ and that as followers of Jesus we are the sowers. The problem of the ‘seed’ not being received by some or only taking root in a fickle kind of way is explained away because people’s hearts are hard, they have too much going on in their lives, they lack the imagination to believe in mystery, they have some sort of moral failing that blocks their ears, they don’t try hard enough, or perhaps even we are at fault with something in our lives getting in the way of people hearing the good news and taking it to heart. But, I’m interested in a different reading of the parable. The late Robert Farrar Capon (American Episcopal Priest, Author and Chef) gives us the idea of reading this parable with the knowledge that we have from John 1. The seed in the parable becomes ‘The Word’ – the presence of God made concrete and real in Jesus and the sower is not us but rather God the creator. With this in mind we can see that the ‘seed’ is present in all places and situations on earth and in life and this seed is perfect, full of life and goodness and capable to do what it intends to do. This reading of the parable frees us from having the burden of sowing seeds and it frees us from the burden of passing judgement on those who don’t receive the seed for whatever reason. We simply become, like all people, receivers of the seed. In Jesus’ interpretation after the parable us receivers have one job – to ‘hear and understand.’ We are to ‘listen and take it to heart.’ This takes a bit of pressure off as I’ve said. We are to listen and understand. We are not to listen and then work really hard to make the seed grow by providing the perfect growing conditions. This is good news. We can get rid of the conditions for growth that we’ve placed on the seed (God’s way and presence) – the rules we’ve imposed to put boundaries on what it means to be a good christian, the striving we have to do to make God notice us, the guilt we’re meant to feel when we make mistakes, and the grovelling we’re meant to do if we do. I’ve been thinking a little this week about the Sabbath. Over the years there have been a good number of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’ around the Sabbath! ‘Nope’ to all this, we are simply to listen and understand, listen and take it to heart.

This seems to be implying a sort of ‘accept God’s goodness and get out of the way’ approach. What are we to do with this?

1. We trust the seed knows what it’s doing. If I plant a kumara I expect kumara, I don’t get onions. Seeds know what they are about – so too this ‘seed’ – the goodness of God knows what it’s about, we are to trust this.

2. We aren’t to force or coerce the seed into behaving like we want it to. The goodness of God doesn’t follow our rules and boundaries, we can’t shape God in our image no matter how hard we sometimes try.

3. Getting out of the way of the seed at work in us is to be at rest in the goodness of God and let it grow in us. Jesus talks of an abundant harvest and in other places of ‘abiding in him’. Paul talks of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When we stop trying to control what the work of God is, when we accept and relax in God’s way, this is what takes root in us.

At Matariki we look to the past grateful for what has been. We celebrate the present moment – the people and things in our lives right now. And, we look to the future hopeful for what is to come, which of course, we can do because the seeds of God’s way still have growing to do in us and all around us. We are also reminded of the actions we can take to allow the fullness of the goodness of God to continue its growth in and around us – we are to listen and take to heart the idea that we are to trust in the seed of God’s life, that it will accomplish what it will in the year ahead because the goodness of God has been and is present in all time and place, in all peoples and cultures. The seed has been sown so let us listen, take it to heart, celebrate its presence in us and all around us, and trust it to continue to take root, multiply and grow and grow and grow – the seed contains all that is required.