Scatter the Word :: Vincent van Gogh, “The Sower”

Van Gogh - The Sower.jpg
Vincent van Gogh, The Sower; oil on canvas; 1888.

After Jesus’ resurrection, there are numerous accounts of Jesus meeting with His disciples. Several of those accounts depict Jesus’ commissioning His disciples to continue the work He began (see Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:6-8). He invites them to become witnesses of Jesus everywhere they go, making disciples as they proclaim the message about Jesus. Earlier in the Gospel accounts, in Matthew 13, Jesus tells two parables about God’s kingdom rooted in agricultural life. The first is a parable about a sower scattering seed on different types of soil with different results (Matthew 13:1-23), while the second is about a sower who scatters good seed in a good field but whose enemy sows weeds into the field during the night (13:24-30). When asked about this second parable, Jesus begins by saying, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man” (13:37). Jesus’ work is, in a sense, the work of a sower of seed, scattering good news into the field of the world. So, when the disciples go out, they, too, become sowers of the seed, scattering good news about Jesus. Vincent van Gogh’s beautifully rich painting, The Sower, is one of at least thirty paintings and drawings the artist made on this theme. Drawing upon his Christian roots and influenced by a similar work of Jean-François Millet, van Gogh saw his own artistic endeavors as a form of ministry within the world. Painting this while working alongside Paul Gauguin, van Gogh works out with passionate color his sense of how painting can bring beauty and peace from God into a disoriented and pain-filled world. The sun sinks low behind the sower almost like a halo, suggesting the holiness of a vocation lived out under God. Reflecting on Jesus’ self-description, van Gogh helps us see the holiness of the evangelistic calling of Jesus’ disciples—both then and now—who are sent out on mission, while also seeing the holiness within our vocational calling through which we can subversively join God’s mission in this world. It is both in proclamation and incarnation that Jesus’ disciples sow the seed of the message of Jesus.

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