Summary: God brings change to our world slowly, one person at a time, but with dynamic results.
I guess the parable of the sower is a familiar one to most of us. It’s one of those stories that have been told and retold countless times. So the danger is that when we hear it again we can think we already understand everything that there is to learn from it. Yet God’s word is living and active, sharper than any 2-edged sword. So we should expect that each time we look at something like this passage we’ll discover new insights, that we’ll be challenged anew by the simple message of the parable. Well, what I’d like to do today is to concentrate, not so much on the story itself as on the three things that make up the story. That is, the seed, the soil and the sower.
First of all the seed.
If you were a follower of Jesus and you observed the things that were going on at this point in time, you’d have no trouble imagining the Kingdom of God taking over the world. People were flocking to Jesus, people were being healed, evil spirits were being driven out of people’s lives. The power of the kingdom was obvious to all who were there. It would have been easy to think that the Kingdom of God would simply overwhelm all who opposed it. Yet as Jesus tells this parable he raises something puzzling for us. If this is meant to tell about the growth of God’s Kingdom, there’s something wrong. First of all, the means of the growth of the Kingdom seems a bit weak. A tiny seed? And it’s all a bit hit and miss. Some of it grows and some dies! Yet this is God’s plan to bring in his kingdom. There’s a mystery here.
You’d think if the Lord of the universe wanted to bring his rule to bear on the world he’d be employing an army of angels. He’d be calling down lightning on his enemies. He’d be silencing those who oppose him by supernatural means. But that’s not what’s implied in this parable that, he says, reveals to his disciples the secrets of the kingdom of God..
No, the kingdom is going to come about by a slow and secret process, that won’t be immediately apparent. There’ll be a time of planting, a time of growth in secret, and only at the end of time will the harvest be fully reaped.
So how is this growth to occur? What is the seed that will be planted? What is the secret ingredient that will lead to the kingdom of God taking root in this world? The answer is simple. "The seed is the word of God. (v11)" The seed is the gospel that will be proclaimed from Jerusalem to Samaria and to the furthest ends of the world. The preaching of the gospel will germinate into a kingdom of God’s people that will expand and flourish as people hear and respond to the call of God.
Now we can’t underestimate the importance of that statement. There are so many other means that people would prefer to use to bring in God’s kingdom. In fact there are many Christians in our world today who are embarrassed to use God’s word to spread the Kingdom. Instead they put other things in its place. There are some who put ritual and liturgy, the sacraments, perhaps at the forefront. Who when faced with a crisis, offer comfort and concern at a human level, perhaps grief counselling but wouldn’t think of bringing God’s word into the situation. There are some who replace the word of God with social action, or political involvement. Who rightly see the need for Christians to be involved with those who are downtrodden and abused by those in power. But the danger is that they forget the message of the cross in their work for justice. They forget that the kingdom of God will come into being only as people’s hearts are changed by the working of his Spirit in their lives. That even a totally just society wouldn’t represent God’s Kingdom unless those in that society had given themselves wholeheartedly to God’s rule in their lives.
Now these are all excellent expressions of the love of God and the healing that the gospel can bring, but if they’re offered in the absence of the proclaiming of God’s word, then they’re empty vessels. Jesus knew that his healing of people by itself was insufficient. That’s why at the start of Mark’s gospel, when Peter tells him there’s a crowd waiting for him, presumably so he can continue his healing ministry, he says, "No, we need to go to the other villages so I can preach the Kingdom of God there as well." And then he adds, "That is why I have come." He had come to preach a word which wouldn’t solve the problems of the world. It wouldn’t put an end to terrorism, to injustice, to poverty or starvation. It was a word about personal repentance, personal forgiveness, personal faith, and personal discipleship. It was a word that wouldn’t change the masses. It would just change individuals. It sounds like a very inefficient strategy doesn’t it? But as we’ll see in a moment it carries within it the seed of revolution as individuals respond in obedience and continue to spread the word of God to others. That’s why when the crowd tried to take him and make him their King he walked away from them. It wasn’t that radical change wasn’t needed in the political and social systems of the world. As we’ll see when we come to the parable of the Good Samaritan, later in the year, the word of God calls for social and political action of the most radical kind. But the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, must come first. First people’s hearts need to be changed. And that’s why the seed that we plant must be the word of the gospel.