Beginning today and continuing for the next few Sundays our Gospel reading will focus on the parables of our Lord. Overall, we love the parables. We love these little stories Jesus tells. They are narratives we can relate to, or at least deal with regular things of the world, like sowing and reaping, casting a net, or tending a vineyard. They may be elaborate or simple, but they are stories which capture us, pull us in, and they are used to reveal something beyond our normal comprehension. They uncover something about the Kingdom of God, about the way in which that Kingdom comes to us, about our reaction to His Kingdom, or even our role in it. Parables are useful because our Lord employs them to help us to know what is going on. He does this because, and let us be honest, the Kingdom of God and our place in it is not always as clear or predictable as we would like it to be.
Today, we are looking at the parable of the Sower. This is a special parable because it is one of the few where Jesus not only tells the parable but also gives the proper interpretation of it. He presents the story for us and then decodes what the different characters in it represent. He helps us to get the real meaning of the parable without much distortion. Now, that is a blessing, and it allows us to really dive into what it is He wants us to know in the giving of the parable. This parable is about a Sower who sows seed. He sows seed with reckless indifference. In some respects, he must be one of the worst sowers of seed there could be. He does not seem to care if he casts the seed on the path or the rocky ground or in the weeds or on the good, well tilled soil. He just wanders around throwing the seed where He desires. Of course, all these different soils produce different results. This seems to be the thrust of the parable, and our Lord helps us through understanding just what these different soils represent.
The seed that is sown along the path is like one who hears the Word of the Kingdom but does not understand it. The Word bounces off the closed ears like a seed that tumbles along a stony path with no place to sink into the soil, no hope for any root or sustenance. If faith comes by hearing, the one who refuses to really hear, to allow the Word to sink in, will never understand it. So, we are told the raven snatches it away. The Evil One will not tolerate the Word of his enemy to remain. We know this reality all too well. We recognize it with tears and agony in our hearts. We remember those we love who refuse to hear, those the Word bounces off with no chance to be understood. “As for what was sown on rocky ground,” says our Lord, “this is the one who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately he falls away.” This too we are familiar with, those who receive the Word when it is easy, when it does not cost them anything, before the persecution comes, before the bearing of the cross. But when tribulation comes, when the scorching heat of the sun is applied, they wither away.
Both the impenetrable pathway and the here-today-gone-tomorrow reality of the stony ground are well known to us all. They are the struggle of every attempt to evangelize, to share the Good News of Jesus with others. But it is perhaps what is sown among the thorns which hits closer to home. Let me tell you, it is this soil, this weed infested ground that is most prevalent among the places the seed is sown. Jesus says, “This is the one who hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful.” The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. Sounds familiar, does it not? The Word is there. The promises of Christ are sown richly into your heart. You are given life and salvation. But there are so many other voices, so many other words seeking to drown it out. The worries about tomorrow, the reality of war and rumors of wars, the threat of climate change, the next big political battle, the quest for financial independence, the idolatry of our own stuff, the need to make a name for yourself, or the desire to have an impact on the world consume your heart and mind. They slowly but surely choke out the Word that was sown. The assurance of eternal blessing is replaced by temporary fears and desires.
As for what was sown among the good soil, Jesus says, “This is the one who hears the Word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” The Word takes root. The Word produces. It is not all equal, not all the same but the Word definitely produces the fruit of the Kingdom. So, we hear this parable, we hear the earthly story with a heavenly meaning, this account of a sower, and also our Lord’s interpretation of all the players in it, and we are given a greater understanding of the working of the Kingdom of the God. But the question remains, what do we do with this information? Why did our Savior give this parable? What was the purpose in telling us all about the different soils? Was it just so we know? Was it just about information?
Well, many will suggest to you this parable is given so you might take heed to what sort of soil you are. Are you the thorn infested ground, or the rocky soil with no depth? Do you not aspire to be good soil? In this way, the parable works as a warning and a call to action. You need to work the ground, till the soil, if you will, so you too might become the good soil, the one that produces. Therefore, the parable acts as a standard of discipleship, a measure where you move from the worst of soils to the very best.
The problem is Jesus never says that. He interprets the parable. He decodes it for us. He describes in great clarity what each of the soils represents and we can easily see their corresponding reality in real life. But He never says, now therefore, take heed and work hard to make sure you are the rich and fruitful soil. He does not prescribe some set of actions for you to take ahold of to ensure that one day you too will be the soil which produces a hundredfold. In fact, if you think about it, you have probably moved through these distinct types of soil at different times in your life. There are times when you were like the rocky ground withering in the face of opposition, and there were times when the Word bounced off your stony ears, and times when the cares of this world have drowned out the promises of Christ. And there are also times, totally unintended by you, where you have produced the fruit of the Kingdom.
Perhaps the point of telling us this parable is first, so you know you have a place in the working of God. From the stony path to the good soil, you are still the object of His reckless and relentless sowing. But perhaps, more importantly, is hearing how the Sower continues to sow. He sows regardless of the type of soil. He sows His Word. He makes His promises. He gives His gifts, not based on how faithful you are or how good the soil is, He sows because this is who He is. Sowing is what He has come to do. He loves, forgives, and embraces you as heirs of eternal life.
So, the sowing goes on. The gifts of Christ continue to come to you. They continue to be sown into your hearts. They come over and over again. They are poured over your heads in the waters of Holy Baptism, clothing you in the righteous garments of Christ. They echo in your ears with the Word of forgiveness, declaring you to be free in the blood of Christ. Then, the very body and blood is given to you in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of all your sins, for the promise of eternal life. Your Sower is relentless. He will not stop, and this is good news. This is your hope. This is your assurance of life eternal.