Setting for the parables
13 That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore.
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. 9 Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”
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:
Jesus spent a lot of time talking in parables. While this created some confusion for the disciples at times it has value for us today. Whatever Jesus would say, whether it was simple prose or poetic imagery, whether it was concise laws or complex stories, the meaning of the words would be debated and pondered over and over again. Think about what we do with the Ten Commandments. We parse out every phrase and try and decide just what it means. What is the difference between killing and murder? What does it mean to not tell a lie, does that include jokes, exaggerations, or hyperbole? What does it mean to honor our parents? Even these simple commands take a lot to understand.
When Jesus talks in parables, we are given a much richer and more detailed image to work with. While simple commands can be helpful at times, parables give us a chance to reflect on something and consider it from different angles. We then have a chance to learn and grow as we engage and reengage with the text.
With the Parable of the Sower, Jesus takes the time both to tell the story and then to explain it. This detail helps us to understand what he is trying to say. It also offers us a chance to think about how this might apply in other ways. In this story Jesus is teaching us something about God, but it can also teach us something about ourselves.
When I look at the parable, I am never sure what to do with the level of knowledge or ignorance of the sower. The seeds are cast into many different places, some of which seem like the most unlikely places for seeds to flourish. Does the sower do this not knowing where the seeds will fall, or being ignorant of the ground? Does the sower do this knowing full well how unprepared the soil might be, but offering the seeds all the same? Each one could tell us something about God and how the Spirit works in our lives.
Even once we resolve this question from the perspective of God, what does it say about us. We are called, as disciples, to go and spread God’s word. In a sense, like God we are asked to be sowers of the word. What can we learn about our own actions from this parable. Should we be ignorant of the places we are casting the Word and let it fall on all equally? Should we learn that the Word will do best when it falls on hearts that are ready to receive it and focus our efforts there?
As I have been wrestling with this, I was reminded of a key detail that Jesus gives us. This is the Parable of the Sower. Jesus often uses different images for God and each one is deliberate. He talks about a sower here, but in other spots he uses the concept of vines and branches. There is a difference between sowing wheat seed and planting a sapling. Wheat seeds are cast about, falling all over the place, while you dig a special hole for a sapling and place it in a specific location that has been prepared just for it. The fact that Jesus uses the image of a sower tells us that the random nature of how the seeds fall to the ground is an important part of the story. We are not going to have as much control when it comes to sowing the word of God than we might wish.
Think about my preaching for a minute. There are a lot of things that I can control. I can control how much time I spend in prayer and preparation on the text. I can control how much I practice it and think it about it. I can control what message I select and how it connects to the songs in the worship service and the events of the day. There is a lot I can control. At the same time there is a lot I cannot control. I cannot control who is going to show up to hear it. I cannot control who is going to stay awake for the whole thing (though I could try and make it interesting). I also cannot control all the things that are going on in each person’s life and how that might connect to what I am saying. Like sowing seeds, there is somethings that are in my power, but there is a lot that is beyond it. I need to trust in the Spirit in order for the words I say to take root and grow.
Ministry is a lot more like sowing seeds than it is like planting trees. First of all, ministry relies on the power of the Holy Spirit, and there is nothing we can do to control when and where the Spirit will show up. Second, ministry is a relational activity and so by definition involves other people and again we cannot control others. Finally, ministry involves the heart and that is internal, hard to see, and often works in its own fashion. We will not know how long a seed lines dormant in a person’s heart before the conditions are right for it to begin to grow.
When I reflect on my own life and my call to ministry in particular I can see reminders of how those seeds have been cast about. The first time I ever considered a call to ministry was when my mother made an off-hand comment about it. At the time I was going to be a computer programmer like my dad, so I dismissed it, but the seeds were planted. Seeds were planted again when I attended Decision Hills Camp and experienced God’s presence in my life. More seeds were cast by my youth director who sensed a call in my heart. Over time the seeds began to take root and grow.
We have been casting out seeds for a long time in this congregation as well. Everything we do is a part of how we cast out seeds and trust in the Spirit to help them grow in people’s lives. In the early nineties, the District Superintendent planted the seeds for a new church near Spicer. This congregation sent some seeds to help it grow. Now, 25 years later, those seeds have grown into a thriving worship community.
For the last decade or so we have been casting out seeds through our Community Meal. Since its inception I estimate we have easily served over ten thousand meals. Each of those meals is a seed planted into someone’s life. We never know how it will grow and blossom. The Aid Program is another reminder of how we cast out seeds and often do not see the great flowers they blossom into, we just trust in the Holy Spirit to bless the work we are doing. Every student we teach in Sunday school is a seed we are planting. Every funeral we do is a way to cast out seeds and plant a message of resurrection and hope in people’s lives. Even the Turkey Dinner and the Bazaar are ways that we plant seeds in the community in small ways. We cast out a lot of seeds and trust that God will help them to grow and prosper.
That is the part that is hard. We want to be in control and we want to see the positive effects of what we are doing. Sometimes we get to see that, but other times we plant and another one harvests. The Parable of the Sower reminds us that we need to trust in the Spirit and know that when the Word of God falls in the right place it will grow and multiple thirty, sixty, and hundred-fold. All for the glory of God.
Questions to Ponder:
When has the Word of God been planted in your life?
Who is someone you know who is effective in sowing seeds for God?
What are ways that you could make your own life more open to God’s word to be planted?
What can you do to be sowing seeds for God in the world around you?
God of Planting and Harvesting, bless us in the sowing of your word in the world. Give us the courage to cast out our seeds, trusting that with your help they will fall on fertile ground. Bless us as we tend the soil of our own lives so that your word might grow in our hearts. Help us to recognize the abundance that you have provided us and to use it for your glory. Amen