Jesus once said, “Listen! A sower went out to sow.4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 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.6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matt 13:3b-9)
I don’t know about your experience, but the last time I sowed seed, it didn’t do very well. It wasn’t on a path; it definitely wasn’t rocky ground; there weren’t weeds to choke out the seedlings. There was some shade and I applied water, yet the conditions still were not conducive for the seeds to take root and thrive. All I can say is, it’s a good thing I’m not God.
Even though Matthew immediately offers an interpretation of this parable, there are a few other things we might be able to pull out of it. When we look at the sower, there are a couple of possibilities: by today’s planting standards, he is reckless and wasteful. Some scholars, however, suggest that planting methods in the first century were very different, almost the opposite, of what we know. Rather than prepare the soil first, and then carefully sow the seeds in neat, long rows, the seeds were broadcast at random and then the soil was tilled. This would be the familiar image that Jesus’ audience would understand.
In Jesus’ imagery of the Kingdom of Heaven, lavish abundance of giving is always applied to God. If Jesus is using seeds as a metaphor for the word of God, then broadcasting that word as widely as possible opens the possibility of it taking root in even the most unlikely places, as God nurtures the seeds for an abundant harvest.
This parable is found in all three of the Synoptic gospels. It may also give us some insight into how Jesus viewed his ministry. In earlier chapters of Matthew, the seed of his teaching appears to have fallen on rocky ground, like when the disciples lose faith during a storm at sea or in thorny briers as the Pharisees want to choke out his message. Soon after this episode, Jesus will experience the “hard soil” of his hometown, as his fellow Nazarenes reject him outright. In this sense, we are hearing the parable of Jesus’ own life.
Each of us might be able to recognize times in our lives when troubles have arisen, or cares of the world have choked out the word, like the rich young man unable to part with his possessions. But the failures to grow are not really the focus of this reading. Out of the extravagant sowing of seed, or in other words, the apparently wasteful spreading of the Word of God, an even more prolific harvest is possible.
If we accept that the seeds are a metaphor for the teachings that Jesus shared extravagantly and indiscriminately, then this is our model for how we are to live our lives: sharing the Word of God indiscriminately with all whom we contact. Lest you worry that I am saying go out there and be an evangelist, remember that every action, every word that is shared in the Spirit of God, is sowing a seed which God can then nurture.
This is the hope we are given in this parable, that even the tiniest seeds, which we cast out into the most unlikely places, carry God’s love and God’s healing.
The more extravagantly we cast those seeds, the more opportunity there is for God’s Spirit to grow in the world. So go out there and be kind, smile at a stranger and love extravagantly; be God’s presence in the world.