Summary: Sermon on the parable of the Sower
The Invitation of Parables Sermon
Prior to our Scripture passage today, Jesus had begun his ministry teaching to small crowds. But when he began to heal people, the crowds began to swell and follow him from all over the land including “Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the region of Tyre and Sidon.” The crowds grew so numerous and those who needed healing were so aggressive in trying to touch Jesus to be healed that he had to get in a boat and push off from the shore on more than one occasion to teach them. One healing included the forgiveness of a man’s sins, which the Jews believed only God could do. Another occurred on the Sabbath violating the Sabbath law. As a result, during dinner one evening, Jesus’ family came and accused him of being insane and the teachers of the law accused him of being possessed by a demon.
Then Jesus began to teach them in a way he never had before, using parables. The parables of Jesus are some of the most beloved and cherished teachings of the Scriptures. Jesus taught 46 parables, more than a third of His teachings. Thus, they were a significant tool in his teaching. But what is a parable? A parable is, literally, something confusing “cast alongside” another which is not, to compare them so that you can understand the confusing thing. In his parables, Jesus used things common in every day life, like mustard seeds, planting a garden, tending sheep and baking bread. So he drew upon the culture in which the people lived and the attitudes they held, re-purposing them to teach the truths of God. Fred Craddock tells the story of a family reunion, and being seated on the patio on a very cold seat. All the other seats were wooden, except this one, and it was cold. Someone said, "Don't you recognize that?" I looked at it and said, "No, should I?" I was told that was the bottom step at the old home where we were born. Then I remembered the old rotten wooden steps, was replaced with a piece of marble. And the person said, "Turn it over." We turned it over and on the other side were burial inscriptions for someone named George Washington Duncan who had died in 1792. A piece of marble became a gravestone, then a step, and now a patio seat. And then he writes, “That's the way a parable is, using and re-using the basic stuff of life in new ways to teach about God and His kingdom.” The assumption among scholars has been that the use of parables was commonplace among the rabbi’s of Jesus’ day. But interestingly, we have found no written parables in the Old Testament or from the time of Jesus. In fact, we do not find any parables in Jewish literature until the 3rd century. While we need to be careful about arguing from silence, Jesus may very well have created teaching through parables. This may be supported by the disciple’s question to Jesus, “Why do you teach through parables?”
Parables can be divided into three classes. The first is true parables that take something from daily life like a sheep separated from the flock (Matt. 18:12-14; Luke 15:4-7), or a coin lost in a home (Luke 15:8-10). Second is story parables refer to an event that took place in the past and centers on one person: the shrewd manager who redeemed himself (Luke 16:1-9), and the judge who eventually administered justice in response to the repeated plea of a widow (Luke 18:2-8). Third are example parables that project an example that is to be imitated like the Parable of the Good Samaritan that ends with the admonition, "Go and do likewise."
Our Scripture today, the Parable of the Sower, is linked in this section with two other stories with seeds. There is the seed growing secretly, which is followed immediately by the story of the mustard seed that grew into a great plant. In the Parable of the Soils, Jesus describes different kinds of soils upon which seed is scattered and each has dramatically different affects. The soils are descriptions of different kinds of people’s hearts and the seed is the Word of God. Some seeds are sown on a path which is hardened soil. The path would have been around the edge of the field and as the sower casts seeds some overshoot the field onto a path which is hardened soil and thus cannot take root. These are hardened hearts. Some fell on rocky soil meaning there was a thin layer of dirt but bedrock underneath. Since it was shallow soil it could not take root deeply and thus while it grows initially, it then dies. A third type of soil has thorns and weeds which ended up growing faster than the seed and thus choke it out. Jesus said there are 3 types of weeds in our lives. First is worry which can dominate our thinking and as well as influence our attitudes and faith. The second is fear which can control our lives, and influence our decisions, our words and our actions to choose our interests rather than God’s, paralyzing us and can holding us captive. Third is wealth which we can believe is the key to happiness and so you end up focusing so much time and effort on those things that you miss out on the life God intends for you. The fourth soil is good soil where the seed came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying 30, some 60, some a 100 times, all good harvests but not incredible in Jesus’ day. So the focus should be the difference between the soils not the different yield of good soil.