Matthew 13 1-9, 18-23
"That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘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!’
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’"
Our Gospel reading today introduces us to a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Up to this point Jesus has been teaching in the synagogues; now he is teaching on the seashore. The doors of the synagogues are beginning to close, even though the ordinary people want to hear him. Some minds and hearts of the religious elite are shutting Jesus out. At this stage Jesus begins to use parables, to reach the people. They are every day earthly images that challenge us and ask us to dig deeper into their meaning. He wants us to ask, 'what is this all about?’
Today we have the very familiar story of the sower and the seed. On face value it looks quite straightforward. No farmer or gardener expects every seed they sow to germinate - some are blown away, some eaten and some choked by weeds - but the majority grow and produces a harvest. Of course, if there is no sowing, there will be no harvest.
Let us look again at where the seeds fall.
The path: How often have we walked the hard packed path of prejudice, a path where not much grows, where life and opportunities are too quickly snatched away?
Rocky ground: Many will know what it is like to live between a rock and hard place. On rocky ground life withers because you can’t put down roots. There’s no security or stability and the sun scorches every effort you make.
Thorny ground: Surely there are many who have walked amongst the thorns of violence, fear, anger, and poverty. These thorns wrap themselves around us choking away dignity, security, and trust.
We may not have all these experiences but we all know the different landscapes of which Jesus speaks. At some point in our lives we will have been on the beaten path, stumbled through some rocky patches, and been scratched by some thorns, as this is the stuff of life. If however, that is all there is as we stumble through life, it will be a sad existence.
There is one final place for the seeds to fall – on good ground :
This is where we have planted our roots deep in the sacred soil that is the word of God, the truth and faith that feeds us and grows in us to become a harvest for the kingdom of God.
This parable has many layers and Jesus is not just describing different types of soil or circumstances of life. He is describing our inner geography. These are the various landscapes of the human heart. We have met these in others and discovered them in ourselves. We are rarely just one type of soil, most of us are all four. The four soils are descriptive of how we live and relate to others and to God. When Jesus explains what happens to the seeds he is describing the consequences of each kind of life.
On one level the parable invites us to be self-reflective and examine the kind of life we are living, which is important and there is nothing wrong that. But we need to dig a bit deeper.We live in a world that thrives on competition, comparison, and judgment. So it is easy to reduce the parable to one obvious question. What kind of soil are you? If we do that we put ourselves at the centre of the parable and push the sower into the background. The “what kind of soil” question is not, however, the only way to read this parable. That’s the difficulty of looking at parables through the lens of the 21st century and so often they don’t make sense.
21st century logic says:
A farmer that sows seed on a public pathway, on rocky ground, and amongst the thorns is simply being wasteful, inefficient, and ineffective. You can’t plant seeds among the rocks and thorns or on a path and then act surprised or complain that nothing grew. The story Jesus tells simply does not fit farming today. But Jesus wasn’t giving lessons on farming, he was offering a glimpse into God’s world and His love and generosity for each one of us.
The divine sower, God sows the same seeds in all four soils with equal toil, equal hope, and equal generosity. The sower does so without examining the soil’s quality or potential. There is no soil left unsown. This is not about the quality of the soil. It is about the quality of God, the divine sower. We want to judge what kind of soil we are. God simply wants to sow his life in ours. Whether we are 50p a bag soil or £5 a bag soil, we are sown with the seeds of God. No life, no person, no soil is left unsown.
Seeds here, there, everywhere, that just seems like poor planning and given today’s economy wasteful and inefficient. These are not, however, God the sower’s concerns. They are our concerns. Thankfully this parable is about God’s faithfulness and not about farming, soil quality, or how things work in this world. In the God the sower’s world wastefulness gives way to hope, inefficiency to love, and profitability to generosity. Every part of your life has been sown with the seeds of God love and we know what happens to seeds. Given the right conditions apple seeds become apples. Peach seeds become peaches. God’s seeds become. Christ in us the hope of glory.