Parable of the soils
3 He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. 4 As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. 6 But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. 7 Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. 8 Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.
Explanation of the parable of the farmer
18 “Consider then the parable of the farmer. 19 Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don’t understand it, the evil one comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path. 20 As for the seed that was spread on rocky ground, this refers to people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. 21 Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. 22 As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth choke the word, and it bears no fruit.23 As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce—in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.”
Thoughts on the passage:
The passages we are looking at today are known generally as the parable of the sower (though our translation today uses farmer instead). It comes in two parts because Jesus tells the story twice, first simple giving the illustration and then when pushed he gives the explanation as well. Even in his explanation however, Jesus leaves a few things out. As we dig into this passage I believe we will see that there is a lot we can draw on as we continue to explore the image of faith as a seed.
There are two ways to reflect on this passage. One is from the perspective of the soil. Each of us is meant to grow in our faith as we seek to be better disciples of Christ. In this context the text builds off of what we talked about last week, that we need to tend to the “soil” of our hearts as we continue on our journey of faith.
A second reading of the text has us focus not simply on the soil where the seed lands, but also on our role to be sowers. Christianity is a participatory religion. We are not called simply to believe in something, or be something, but we are also called to action, to do something. When we look at this passage we need to reflect not just on our role in receiving the Gospel, but also in our role in spreading the Gospel.
I am never quite sure what to make of the sower in this passage. Imagine the sower in modern times, so rather than casting out seed by hand she is using a tractor. What would we think of watching a farmer driving basically everywhere planting seeds, not just in the well tilled fields but also on the highway, the shoulder of the road, and even that rocky patch that never has been dealt with? We would likely think that the farmer was a little crazy. Are we meant to think the same thing about the sower?
To understand the sower we need to try and decide just how precise a parable this is meant to be. How much can we read into the sower’s actions? Who is the sower meant to be and what role is the sower playing? One issue is whether or not the sower is meant to be aware of the quality of the soil that he is planting in. Our example of the farmer driving randomly over the fields seems silly to us because we know where the farmer should be planting. The question we must ask is does the sower know the quality of the soil. The next question we need to ask is, does the sower care?
If the sower is God, and thus knows where the seeds are going, then clearly one thing we can learn is that even while God values the bounty of the harvest, a greater value is being placed on an equal spreading of the seeds. As God goes forth to plant the seeds of faith in our lives, God clearly values spreading those seeds to all of us. God even does this to people who are not in a position to hear God’s words and respond. God clearly values the harvest, but God also values the opportunity for seeds to flourish wherever they might land.
I believe that this is instructive to us if we are also to be sowers of the faith. Like God we cannot be too obsessed with the soil we are planting in. Instead we probably need to spend more time casting out the seeds. Our role as sowers is not to cultivate the soil, instead our role is simply to distribute the seeds.
This role does not always sit well with me. I like to be analytical and strategic about things. This is probably why I never understand things like gambling where there is so high a chance of losing. My analytical brain thinks too much about what the chances of winning are like that I end up not enjoying the thrill of the risk in the process. I look at the Parable of the Sower and think about all that wasted effort planting seeds in places that they will never flourish. If the sower only took some time to plan and strategize he could be so much more efficient.
When it comes to spreading the word of God I can get caught in the same trap. It can be really easy to try and be really focused and strategic about sharing faith with people. When it comes to reaching out and inviting others I love to look for low risk, high reward opportunities, both because I don’t like to be told “no” but also because I like to see the positive results. It is easy then to focus just on reaching out to people who you are sure might be receptive to your message, like people who have already walked through the doors of the church and are asking for more information about faith.
Sadly, this is not what we are called to do when we look at this parable. Instead we are asked to think about being less discriminate when it comes to sowing seeds of faith and sharing the Gospel. The reality is that I think this is the way that we end up yielding better results. As I think about when I have had success in talking about faith and in getting people to come to church it tends to come not from deliberate cultivation and outreach to the most likely people, but instead through general outreach to everyone.
At my last church we had a family come to visit our church thanks to the invitation of some of our members. The family was newer to the area but had been around for about two years before coming to visit. The fact is that several members of the church, myself included, knew the family but never invited them, why because we assumed they already had a church home. Once someone finally invited them to church, they came and having been well received ended up joining the congregation. I only wish we had invited them sooner.
When I attended Beloit, I was one of a minority there who were practicing Christians. While I never made a big deal about my faith, those who knew me new that I was Christian and that I was planning to be a pastor when I graduated. I never did any deliberate spreading of the Gospel in college, instead I would say it was done more through example, trying to be faithful to what I believed and putting my beliefs into practice. Simply the way we live can have an influence. Now years later, I am still serving in many ways as a pastor to my fellow Beloiters and recently was asked for advice by one of them about a resource on prayer, a powerful reminder of the way that the seeds of faith can take a long time to grow and develop.
We are called to be sowers of the faith. As disciples of Christ, our challenge is clear, to go forth and scatter the seeds of faith into the world that others might come to know Christ’s love. As Jesus puts it in Matthew, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” In The United Methodist Church, we talk about how our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Whatever the language we use, the instruction is clear, we need to be actively working to scatter those seeds.
It is too easy for us to get focused on the barriers to casting out the seeds. We can worry about whether or not they will take root. We can stress over what to say or do. The reality is that we need to get over these fears if we are going to followers of God. If we want to see faith grow in the lives of people we know and love we need to think about casting out those seeds. It does not always have to be done with words, how we live can be as powerful a testimony to our faith, but it does need to be done.
I think we need to focus on the two lessons from this story. First that we need to cultivate our own hearts and lives so that God’s message might grow in us. Second we need to cast out the seeds to others, helping to share God’s message with the people we care about. When we do both of these things we will see God’s love begin to blossom all around us.
Questions to Ponder:
What strikes you about this parable as you read it, what parts do you identify with?
Who is someone in your life that you know is sowing seeds of the Gospel in the world?
Where can you be doing your own work to sow the seeds of faith?
Prayer: Spirit, stir in our hearts this Lenten journey. Help us to till the soil of our lives and plant seeds of faith. Water us with your grace that we might flourish in your name. AMEN