Readings: Genesis 25:19–34, Psalm 119:105–112, Romans 8:1–11, Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23
The Parable of the Sower. Or is it?
“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!” Matt 13:1-9
Considering the titles inserted into the Bible for particular passages were not added in until centuries after the Greek New Testament was compiled into a Canon, the title for the Gospel passage is one incredible misnomer. It is so misleading. So much so, that I challenge anyone to read the Bible not taking the passage titles into consideration. Because this passage is not about the sower. It is not even a parable about the sower. It is about the soil, or lack of, that the seed falls on. So perhaps the Gospel passage should be renamed as the Parable of the Soil?
Wait. What? But it’s the sower who wastes the seed – throws it on rock, and on the path, and so on. So surely the parable is about a wasteful sower, so why would it be about Jesus? Well, this parable, like any other takes something that should be obvious and mixes it up a little, or lot.
Suddenly, a metaphor that should be straight forward is not. Of course someone sowing seed would ensure that it all falls in the field, rather than in the brambles, or on rocks. But that wouldn’t paint a fair portrait of human life, would it? Are we then saying that all human life should be thoroughly receptive to the Word of God and should grow up with strong foundations, eagerly listening and feeding on the Scriptures? Perhaps, in an ideal world, where the teachers come with an objective, all loving, all-inclusive way of being, with no emotional baggage. Do you know anyone like that? I certainly don’t.
We are actually given three points of view to consider. The parable of the sower, the parable of the soils and the parable of the phenomenal harvest.
The sower wishes to spread the Good News, and is willing to go wherever to spread that news. He or she is not limited to the field. He or she is not limited to the church building. The sower can go anywhere. A fact, I think, many people wish to ignore. Note, too, htat eth soil is not cultivated before sowing seed. The ground has not been prepared. This idea does not fit with any of our ideologies for mission – where is our preparation? Would any of this actually enable us to understand or have any prior knowledge about the openness of people’s hearts and minds to receive God’s Word? No, none.
So, we come to the parable of the soils. Sowing results in some disciples. The four types of soil remind the church of what is necessary to help seeds flourish. What is required for fruitful discipleship. In order for growth, people must understand, they must attend services, and they must persevere with this discipline.
Seeds can be snatched up by birds – the potential of faith can be taken away so easily. Anything that distracts, or dissuades the new ember of faith in someone. A nasty word, or action, or even an unthinking word could snuff that faith. Understanding opens the ground, but please, I beg you… do not equate understanding with a mere acknowledgement. Understanding is tied to insight. Understanding leads to a change in lifestyle as you are drawn nearer to God. Understanding is necessary for discipleship but it is not sufficient on its own.
Attentiveness and discipline are also required. Disciples must ensure they can stand up to injustices and temptations (anxiety and the lure of wealth).
The soils upon which the seeds fall do not have to remain that way – it is up to the person who hears the Word to decide if they want to nourish that seed or not. The onus is on the people. As Gary Peluso-Verden wriets: “the factor the the disciples are not able to control, however, is whether or not the path is hard, whether or not there is understanding. Understanding, like faith, is a gift.” God gives that gift, freely. It is up to each of us as humans whether we wish to respond. No-one can tell us otherwise.
It is therefore a miracle that any disciples come forward and grow. It is quite simply put, a miracle from God. The remaining seeds produce abundantly – provided that they are nurtured. The abundance is truly astonishing – beyond that which we see.
It is only by coming together, supporting one another and praying together that we can encourage each other. This is what God asks of us – to believe and trust. To lay our differences aside and come to him in humility. But we need to have hope, and be diligent in our prayers that God continues to work mightily. Pray with me…