Summary: The Parable of the Sower teaches us not only what not to be, but what we can be to become fertile soil for the seed of the Spirit.
Introduction: The first recorded parable of Jesus is “The Parable of the Sower.” It is the only parable which Jesus explains line by line.
One of the important things for us to understand is that fields in biblical times were not like our fields today which have been prepared by modern machinery with the crops planted in neat rows. In those days, the fields were in long strips with paths between them so that people could pass through. That was important in a culture where everyone walked. Sometimes the Romans built their roads next to a farmer’s field. Sometimes the land next to the field was allowed to grow wild; it was full of thorns and weeds. The farmer would cast the seed all over the ground and then plow it under. In the ancient process of sowing it was impossible not to have some of the seed fall, or be blown by the wind, onto the different areas.
It is very possible that Jesus was watching a farmer sow seed as He told this story, in which Jesus is represented as the Sower, and the seed is the Word of God. Please note that the seed falls onto every type of soil without discrimination.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And He told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Jesus went on to explain, “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Prayer: Farmer God, Your words of life are cast upon the earth with a generous hand and a hopeful heart. May Your word take root in our lives as we grow deeper in Your way and bear the fruit of justice, righteousness, and love. Amen.
The soil in the parable represents our willingness to hear and respond to the Word of God as given through Jesus Christ. It’s about how well we listen. Much of the time we are poor listeners.
Franklin Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It was not until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
We are selective listeners, tuning out when we think we know what another person is going to say. I’m embarrassed to admit that I do that. My dear husband, John, knows immediately when I have tuned out. It’s painful for us both, but I’m working on it.
In the parable of the sower, Jesus talks about four kinds of listeners:
1. The hard-hearted listener
2. The shallow-hearted listener
3. The clutter-hearted listener
4. The good-hearted listener.
As I describe these listeners, think about whether you might fall into one group or another. Generally speaking, Jesus draws with a broad brush, meaning the separations may not be so clear. Each of us may fall into a number of categories.