That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Have you ever wondered why Jesus often spoke in parables?
This question seems to have occurred to the disciples as they seem confused by the Parable of the Sower but don’t want Jesus to know, so they ask him, after he said this. “Why do you talk to the people in parables?” Jesus responds with a long explanation which can be summed up as ‘because I want people to listen, to see, and to think for themselves’.
He doesn’t want to hand out a blueprint of how the Kingdom of God is built – he wants those who are genuinely seeking the kingdom to reason it out for themselves. Through parables, he gives an idea of what the finished product is supposed to look like and then challenges listeners to use their brains and imagination to create it.
I expect there are more, but I know at least three different ways that we can look at the parable of the sower.
The first way of looking at this parable is to take it literally. But, it should be obvious that Jesus isn’t describing a new way of agricultural farming. Any successful farmer knows that you don’t simply turn on the seed spreader in the field and let it just fling seed randomly around: on the road, into the weeds and ditches to get a good harvest.
Jesus went on to interpret the parable symbolically, which is another way of understanding it. So it would be easy to say, OK, I get it. God is the sower, and his message is the seed. We are the soil. That is the meaning of this parable. Jesus even goes so far as to tell us what type of person each particular kind of soil represents: Matthew 13-19-23,
The hard-hearted path doesn’t understand the message.
The shallow rocky soil won’t allow faith to take root because the faith is also shallow.
The unprepared, weed-infested soil will choke out the message because it is full of the ways of the world.
And only the good soil allows the message God is sewing to flourish.
It all seems quite simple enough. Too simple, really, because if it is all so straightforward, then where is the mystery to be found by those with ears to listen?
Also, by looking for the symbolism, it is quite easy to slip into the habit of looking for the moral in a story:
Don’t build your house on sand.
Don’t cry wolf.
Slow and steady wins the race.,
And for goodness sake, BE GOOD SOIL!
But, having heard the description of the four different types of soil, we can’t help but put these words into the mouth of Jesus, ‘Be good soil’.
However, and this is the essential point that I am building up to – he never actually said that. He never said, “be good soil,” and so I believe there is more to the parable than that.
The thing is, there is no nice and tidy moral here. I know with the best will in the world, as much as I would like to, I can’t make myself into just good and well-fertilised soil, and good soil only. I know that I am not able to do that and live my life authentically.
The fact is, none of us is all one type of soil. Each of us has all four kinds of soil in our hearts, so despite all the talk about soil and seeds, perhaps the parable of the sower isn’t really about those two things at all. Perhaps the parable of the sower is really about the sower?
Because a third way we can look at this parable is by describing an extravagant and all-loving God who knew full well that it is madness to try and sow seed in barren soil. But he does it anyway, he sows his love with reckless abandon into hearts that are made up of all four different types of soil.
Jesus threw seeds of love to the disciples, who over and over again proved that they had hard hearts and dim wits, but he continued to throw seeds at them, continued to work with them, and continued to help them see what God was doing in the world around them – perhaps because he knew they also had enough fertile soil in their hearts to carry on with his work?
Jesus scattered seeds of the Gospel with wild abandon, even when it was clear that his disciples didn’t really get it. When they turned him over to the authorities; abandoned him in his hour of need; and even denied knowing him. Even then, Jesus continued to pour out his love on them by inviting them back into the fold after the resurrection.
Today, God is reckless in his love for us all:
We who continue in the often proud hard-hearted, and dim-witted ways of the disciples.
We who neglect to build the kingdom and instead focus on building ourselves.
We who show time and time again why we need forgiveness, yet who forget, again and again, to give it.
We who, in addition to all these points, also have a portion of fertile soil in our hearts that God can work with.
So, the good news today is that God continues to throw seeds of love at us. He pours out his love unconditionally and relentlessly in hope that we will at last understand. And when he finds even the smallest patch of good and willing soil in a heart – a seed germinates, and the Kingdom of God begins to develop and flourish within that heart – producing an abundant harvest of new Christians; 30, 60, 100-fold even.
For me, the message in this parable is about God and his wildly extravagant love for us all. No one will ever love us the way that God does. He proved it by sending his only son to redeem us from our sins and offer us the hope of life eternal.
The David Crowder Band sings How He Loves in the YouTube video link below and describes God’s grace (or love) as heaven meeting earth in an unforeseen kiss – which is an amazing way to think of it.
Will you allow the seed of God’s love and hope to germinate in your heart today like a heavenly unforeseen kiss?