One of the best illustrations of the Parable of the Sower, this week’s Gospel from Matthew 13, is Van Gogh’s The Sower with Setting Sun from 1888. Look at it—a seemingly simple, rural summer scene of a farmer distributing seed. But look again at the composition and colors—the painting is unique in that the sower is almost overshadowed by the huge sun in the center and the ploughed earth.
Van Gogh had a special interest in sowers throughout his artistic career. All in all, he made more than 30 drawings and paintings on this theme. The sower in particular was a figure that Van Gogh saw in terms of representing the eternal cycle of agricultural life, of honorable endeavor and tradition, and symbolized these qualities to the artist.
Van Gogh studied to be a priest so his pictures often include religious themes. Color always provided a particular meaning for Van Gogh. Here, Van Gogh used colors meant to express emotion and passion. He assigned the leading roles to the greenish-yellow of the sky and the purple of the field. He painted the sun in his favorite color citron, a very intense yellow, which made up the sun and was used in pure form without being mixed. This is the color of God. The bright yellow sun looks like a halo, turning the sower into a saint. Here he has created a great orb of light, from which short precise brushstrokes radiate outwards so that the whole sky becomes bathed in golden rags
The sower casting out seed can be seen representing the kingdom at work using the color blue that of water and the continuity of nature. The sower in the painting is using a technique called broadcasting – taking handfuls of seed and scattering it to the wind rather than depositing it directly in prepared soil. In hilly Galilee, farmers could not be sure where the rocks and the fertile soil are located so they had to be generous with the seed.
We are also sowers at St. Peter’s. Similar to broadcasting the church scatters the seeds you provide through your gifts to different ministries representing the kingdom at work. Because of a changing set of needs we often are not sure where the fertile soil will be during the year so we encourage pledges to the church as a whole and not to individual ministries. We also try to be generous, too because we want the ministries to grow and change lives.
On the face of it, the sower seems unproductive, seemingly wasting so much of it on ground that holds little promise of a rich harvest. However, generosity can only be real when expressed – some life will come of his efforts because he WILL find that productive soil. So too, we have to remember that Jesus has invested in each one of us as his disciples. He too seemingly squandered his time with all sorts of people and will find us to deliver the kingdom through the ministries we support. It takes all of us, the sowers, to work toward creating that plentiful harvest that is the Kingdom.