It is curious that among the many difficult and inscrutable parables
of Jesus, the story of the Farmer and the Seed should be so thoroughly
explained by Jesus. It is as if this most obvious of all the parables
were particularly obscure and opaque. This parable as related in the
Gospel of Luke was for many years associated with Sexagesima Sunday.
It is fascinating to see the different take on the story by two great
composers separated by exactly a century.
Schütz’ setting dates from 1650 in that particularly fertile period of his career following the Peace of Westphalia that ended the dreadful Thirty-Years War. Both the Geistliche Chormusik (1648) and the 3rd book of Symphoniae Sacrae (1650) have a large number of pieces celebrating peace or, as is the case with our sacred symphony, celebrating a return to normalcy. During the war, fighting had been so intense and all-consuming that some parts of Germany suffered from starvation merely because there was no one to till the fields. Obviously this parable resonated with the people in a literal and direct fashion. Schütz’ response to this parable is subtle and nuanced. As the various stages of the story become more elaborate in their counterpoint, the litany response of the people becomes more lucid and clear. It is as if the people do not understand the message until the final stage of the story has been articulated.