15th Week of Ordinary Time

“The Parable of the Sower” is the title given in the Bible I use (The New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition, NRSV).

The Gospel ( Matt 13: 1 – 23) also includes the purpose of parables, and the parable of the Sower explained.

Consequently, our attention is captured by the diversity of ground the seed falls on, and as a result which part of me is rocky, shallow, full of thorns and the like. What has happened is that I have become the focus of attention!

I suggest reading verses 1 – 9 because the story’s focus is now on the Sower.

The illustration “Sower at Sunset”, 1888 is kept in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.

The Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890), was particularly interested in Sowers throughout his artistic career.

He made more than 30 drawings and paintings on this theme, and my focus is the painting “The Sower at Sunset”.

This painting was completed by Van Gogh in 1888 in Arles, Provence, during his somewhat intense and turbulent friendship with the French artist Paul Gauguin in the Yellow House.

The Yellow House also features in Van Gogh’s paintings.

The picture shows, somewhat obviously, a person out in a field scattering seeds.

When I look at the action of the person sowing, the word “indiscriminate” comes to mind.

I picture the flow of the hand and arm from the seed bag to the ground – backwards and forwards, the seed is flung, which is the intention of the one sowing.

Freely and with gay abandon, the seed is spread.

The striking aspect of this painting is that the ripe corn can still be seen behind the Sower, who sows the cultivated land with a broad arm gesture.

However, the Sower is not walking among the fertility of what has been sown ( and grown); instead, the Sower is walking on the cultivated soil – the what might be – and indeed, the Sower and the ploughed land share the same colour.

Principally, the question I am left with for reflecting is might I find my God more in what is to come; the ploughed field, rather than in what has been; the fertile field of corn?

Sunday 15th of Ordinary Time

“The Good Samaritan,” together with the story of the Prodigal Son,  may well be the most-read stories/parables Jesus ever told.

It is somewhat intriguing that for all their drama, both parables are recalled only by the author of the Gospel of Luke!

We are familiar enough with the story of the Good Samaritan; a man is travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, is accosted by robbers, who strip, beat him, and leave him for dead. A priest and Levite are travelling the same road, come to the spot where the man lay and “passed by on the other side” (vv. 31, 32). A Samaritan, also travelling the same road, comes upon the man, and as the text says, “was moved with pity”, and the rest as they say ‘is history’.

What would have leapt out at the first hearers of this story was that Jesus subverted his hearers’ expectations by explaining that it was a Samaritan who helped the man.

Samaritans were known as the ones who would rob Jews on this road as they went “up” to Jerusalem from Jericho for their holy days. The listeners would have not only expected a Samaritan to be unsympathetic to the plight of the victim, but they would also have expected the Samaritan to be the perpetrator!

The Dutch impressionist Vincent Van Gogh painted this Gospel scene.

On May 8, 1889, exhausted, ill, and out of control, Vincent Van Gogh committed himself to St Paul’s psychiatric asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a small hamlet in the south of France.

A former monastery, the sanatorium was located in an area of cornfields, vineyards and olive trees.

There Van Gogh was allowed two small adjoining cells with barred windows.

One room he used as his bedroom, and the other was his tiny studio.

While there, Van Gogh not only painted the surrounding area and the interior of the asylum, but he also copied paintings and drawings by other artists, making those paintings his own through modifications he made to the painting’s composition, the colours and of course, the brush strokes.

Van Gogh copied and modified Delacroix’s painting of The Good Samaritan.

When Van Gogh was admitted to the sanatorium he had become so difficult, so sick that the townspeople of Arles, where he had been living and painting had given him the name “the red-headed madman.”

Take a look at the ‘good Samaritan’ struggling to lift the wounded man onto his mount – looks very much like “the red-headed madman” from Arles!

And many commentators agree it is!

Van Gogh has assumed the role of the good Samaritan – and when you read a comprehensive biography of Van Gogh, this helping of the downtrodden is not unusual.

Van Gogh had an extraordinary compassionate side to his person.

“The word compassion literally means ‘to suffer with”.

Despite his reputation for madness, Vincent Van Gogh was a compassionate and faith-filled man.

While involved in missionary work among the impoverished population of the Borinage, a coal-mining region in southwestern Belgium.

There, in the winter of 1879–80, he experienced the first great spiritual crisis of his life.

Living among the poor, he gave away all his worldly goods in an impassioned moment; he was thereupon dismissed by church authorities for a too-literal interpretation of Christian teaching.

Many of us have our favourite Gospel story – what does this story say about me?

Am I somewhere there?

Also, we may well have a story which is our least favourite – equally, we do well to ask, does this particular story expose a part of who I am that I would prefer to remain hidden?


30th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

This Sunday’s responsorial psalm contains these beautiful words: ‘Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap. They go out full of tears carrying seed for the sowing; they come back full of song, carrying their sheaves.’

Anyone who has done, and who still does, any gardening, knows that the antithesis of tears and song is not so far off the mark. When I was in ministry in Hastings, I started a vegetable garden. The soil is so rich in the area they would say, ‘if you plant an ice block stick, it will grow!’

They neglected to mention oxalis and convolvulus also grow.

Sowing is a beautiful occupation, but it calls for hard work: the ground needs be prepared, the seed sown, then there is regular watering and aftercare.

The first green shoots bring an up-tempo beat of the heart (and if you are like me, a moistening of the eye!)

Then, after time, there is the delight in digging the new season’s potatoes, or a lettuce, cabbage, carrot, whatever.

The Sower
The image is a pencil, brush and ink drawing by Van Gogh, with the title “The Sower”, 1882. It hangs in The Hague, Netherlands.

Many of the great artists we admire know well the tears of sowing.

Once such artist is Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890).

During his life, Vincent experienced poverty, loneliness, and much illness. At times life was so difficult for him that he felt he couldn’t go on.

Once he said, ‘It is getting too lonesome, too cold, to empty.’ Van Gogh’s greatest heartbreak was a failure to win recognition as an artist.

Most people who knew him considered him a failure.

He was only thirty-seven when he died and by then he had sold only one of his paintings. It was sold for a few hundred Francs.

He said, ‘Painting requires a lot of faith because one cannot prove at the outset that it will succeed.

“In the first years of hard struggling, it may even be a sowing in tears. But we shall check them because in the far distance we have a quiet hope of the harvest.’

In spite of everything, he persevered. And the harvest did come, though too late for him.

The day after his death a few of his friends came and decked out the small room where his coffin lay with some of his paintings. It was only then that they realized how beautiful those paintings were. Today his canvasses are almost beyond price.

May the words of Vincent van Gogh, ‘Life is only a kind of sowing; the harvest is not here,’ echoing the words of today’s Psalm, ‘sowing in tears, they will sing when they reap’ fall on rich soil.

Footnote: 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.

For more information on Vincent Van Gogh there is a worthwhile book titled, Van Gogh’s Untold Journey, Revelations of Faith, Family, & Artistic Inspiration – William J Havlicek, PhD.