The winter is getting long and yes, I know it is January and I live in the north country, but I do long to look out my window and see more than mostly white (and for the thermometer to go above zero!). My heart aches for spring and green and color, which will be here in due time. One thing we can thank winter for—it helps us appreciate spring. Would we cherish the sunshine and green grass if they were always before us? Probably not as much.
This beautiful painting on a seed packet will never hang in a museum or be critically acclaimed. We don’t even know who the artist is. But I still love to look at it. It brings to mind that Peterson Farms seed commercial that says, “Nothing holds more promise than a seed.” Which causes me to think on the Parable of the Four Soils (Luke 8:4-8; Matthew 13:10-23; Mark 4:10-25).
“The Sower,” painted by James Tissot around 1894, is an opaque watercolor over graphite on grey wove paper. It is a visual offering of this Parable where we are told that some of the seeds are eaten by birds; some choked by thorns; some fall on dry soil; yet some fall on good soil and produce a crop. The seed represents the Word of God.
Tissot presents the Sower as a first-century Palestinian farmer, indicated by the bare feet and the clothes. It was Jewish custom to wear a sash to show the separation of the “chosen ones” from the pagans. The scarf was typical Jewish headgear and had the Jewish name for God at its four corners (yud-hey-vav-hey).
Notice how a flock of birds fly across the horizon. A group of weeds sway in the wind. Rocky terrain flows through the land. I love this idea of a farmer freely sowing without paying attention to where the seed is landing. This sower isn’t simply generous but perhaps downright irresponsible. Doesn’t he know that seed is too valuable a resource to scatter with such reckless abandon? Yet the sower walks undeterred. His outstretched arm like that of the Savior preaching the Word.
Being Human connection: This, of course, is Jesus’ point. God isn’t like any other farmer. God is reckless, wild, heedless, even downright wasteful in showering God’s people with grace, not just saving it for the “good soil” folks. No wonder Jesus said, “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!” Apparently, God’s grace is for everyone.
Featured images: Seed packet from John Gardiner and Co., 1896; James Tissot, “The Sower,” 1894.
P.S. I just noticed that these two art features were painted two years apart.