Friday, February 3, 2017

Divine Recklessness

“The Parable of the Sower”
Edward Riojas. 2000.
(Collection of the artist)
Image available from

“The sower sows the word.” – Mark 4:14

Copyright © Edward Riojas

As an artist, it’s almost too easy to tackle the Parable of the Sower. Agrarian visuals were straightforward for the Lord‘s listeners; His words were something even the simplest in the audience could envision. The underlying meaning was a different matter.

Three of my pieces are variations on the artistic theme, and each possesses increasing complexity.

Perhaps the simplest is the black and white roundel created for the Higher Things Ecclesiastical Art CD. The image was part of the collection intended to illustrate readings for the Historic One-Year and New Three-Year lectionaries. In the image, the sower is simply sowing. There is no visual differentiation made between good and bad soil. Indeed, there is little of the arable land for the viewer to see. The sower is simply intent on sowing until the basket is empty of seed.
“The Parable of the Sower”
Edward Riojas. 2002.
(Private collection)
Giclee prints available at

A much larger painting on the subject still plays it visually safe, following a formula used by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The sower sows in a plowed field. A nod is given to thorns, rocky ground, and a path. Focus, however, is given to the good soil, and a banner underscoring this unfurls below the image.

Most complex of the three examples is “The Sower of the Seminary,” a triptych commissioned by a graduating class at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I was “blessed” to work with not one, but two committees in finalizing details of the painting. The result is a piece that is abruptly different from the preceding two pieces.

A triptych form was necessary, considering the basic parable was overlaid with emphasis on the Word and Sacraments, two events from Christ’s life, additional Biblical references, and all set against a backdrop of the seminary campus. The whole was intended to be viewed as three windows opening on a single landscape.
“The Parable of the Sower”
Edward Riojas. 2012.
(Kroemer Library, Concordia Theological Seminary,
Fort Wayne, Indiana)
Giclee prints available at

Holy Baptism is the theme of the left-hand panel, and is primarily filled with the Baptism of Jesus Christ and manifestation of the Holy Trinity. There are details, however, that should not be missed. A scallop shell points to the sacrament, as does Noah’s ark and its implications of the flood. And one must look closely to see an Egyptian chariot beneath the water – another reference to the cleansing of sin through Holy Baptism.

The Lord’s Supper is the theme of the right-hand panel, and depicts the Supper at Emmaus. Originally, the arms of the Lord were more transparent – as in the state of vanishing – but that detail was eliminated for the sake of clarity. Thorns of the planted field have been worked into a crown below the table, and above the Emmaus tableau a view is given into the Heavenly Feast, with the victorious Lamb as both Host and Meal.

Central to the piece is Christ in the role of sower. In His divine recklessness, he broadcasts the Word to all without exception, desiring all to be saved. Thorns and a rocky path interrupt rich, plowed soil. A satanic bird eyes the seed with hunger.

It would seem that modern methods make the Parable of the Sower almost irrelevant. Almost. Broadcasting – as the Biblical sower does – seems wasteful and inefficient, unless one strolls today where massive, mechanized seeders have done their duty. Hard-packed row ends are common places to see piles of color-coded seeds – dropped as the tractor made a 180-degree turn with planting implement in tow. In my neck of the woods, one can also occasionally see half-full, discarded bags of seed after planting. Sowing, it seems, still errs on the side of gracious abundance. Our Lord has always sown His Word on us undeserving with reckless abandon, and, thanks be to God, He will do so until the final harvest.

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