Although it strikes me as odd, I suspect that Rogers and Hammerstein based their musical, Oklahoma! (1943/1955), on the readings for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A. All the ingredients of the musical’s plot are there in the lessons from Isaiah, Psalm 65, Romans 8, and Matthew 13. This should not be surprising, for the Sundays after Pentecost focus on God’s people learning to dwell as holy people, struggling with petty, sometimes deadly jealousy and brokenness while struggling to live responsibly, caring for God’s good creation.
Isaiah and the Psalmist compare the fruitfulness of God’s Word to the splendor of God’s good earth revealed in the natural cycles of Springtime, growth, and harvest. Earth bears its bounty thanks to rain, sun, and careful tending. Both Isaiah and Matthew see parallels to God’s Word being fulfilled when it is heard, pondered, and allowed to blossom in the “good soil” of God’s attentive, caring people. This, in fact, is God’s will and pleasure [Isaiah 55:11; Psalm 65]. Such fruitful harvests bring joy and delight as well as sustenance to people who care for the earth:
12For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
…and right on cue, Gordon MacCrea, the star of Oklahoma!, opens the show with Oh, What a Beautiful Morning! The songcelebrates nature’s beauty, crops “as high as an elephant’s eye,” contented livestock, and “all the sounds of earth,” the music Isaiah and the Psalmist imagined centuries before. MacCrea’s cowboy character, Curly, is in love with Laurey, the fair-haired niece of the show’s gruff and gracious matriarch. Alas, so is Aunt Eller’s ranch hand Jud, a troubled, brooding man itchin’ fer a fight. In Saint Paul’s terms [Romans 8], Jud is living according to the flesh – that is, fixated on whatever will bring himself pleasure or relief without counting the cost to or impact on others. Curly, one surmises, is learning to live in the Spirit, to set his mind on higher things which establish life and peace for the human community. People, Laurey guesses, will say that she and Curly are in love – and rightly so!
St. Matthew compares godly, gracious living and loving to soil well prepared for seeds sown and tended throughout the growing season. Rocky, poor soil is like a person who has not cleared the land (the distracting clutter we create and encounter), making it impossible to put down the physical, emotional, and spiritual roots necessary for life to endure. Lastly, the thorny ground of selfishness, inattentiveness, jealousy, and dissipation chokes the life from anything good and pure, even God’s own Word.
Oklahoma!’s landscape offers all three soil types. Aunt Eller, Laurey, and Curly represent the good soil, frontier folks striving to make a fuller life for all. Wise sage that she is, Aunt Eller also knows the inherent distrust of cattle ranchers and farmers which constitutes the rocky outcroppings of the area. Wide-open spaces are needed for grazing livestock; fenced, protected plots are needed for crops; they all need water rights. Nevertheless, life will not prosper in this contentious setting, so she belts out The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends. Several other characters of questionable repute also contribute to the rocky soil. Sadly, Jud’s life is a tangle of thorns. Obsessed with his own lusts and desires, he literally causes his own death, fulfilling St. Paul’s observation about living “in the flesh.”
Wise folks have always known human connectedness to land and to God’s whole creation. We are called to be its perpetual stewards, bearing God’s loving regard for this good earth. So, it is not surprising that prophets, psalmists, apostles, evangelists, even musical theater writers have looked to nature, to the land around us, as reminders of our connectedness to each other, to all life, and to God. And in thanksgiving, we reply, “My honey lamb and I … know we belong to the Land!” And that is grand, indeed!