Matthew 13: 1 – 9 and Matthew 13: 18 – 23
Parables are stories with a meaning, stories that compare one thing with another to help understanding and see how they match. Jesus used them to hint at what the kingdom of God (or heaven) is like.
This story is about a sower, an arable farmer planting his crop. It seems like a simple enough story. Everyone in Galilee lived on, or near and depended on the land, everybody who heard Jesus tell this story would have understood farmers, farming and fields very well.
However, this story is a bit perplexing, it leaves us, as it would have left its first hearers, with work to do. It certainly wasn’t self-explanatory. People would have started to think about it and gradually it would have got a grip of them as they tried to puzzle it out. Parables left their hearers wanting to know more!
So, what on earth is this story about seeds and different soils about?
Is it about a careless farmer who scatters precious seeds all over the place willy-nilly, instead of taking care to scatter it only on the good soil? Some people would have been livid at the idea of his extravagance. What on earth was he doing? So much wasted seed!
Or is Jesus describing the mixed fortunes that regularly follow the sowing of seeds? I know I have mixed fortunes in that department! The process can be quite random and you can’t always tell which seeds will grow and which won’t.
But there’s a strong and positive climax to this story, there’s a lavishness about the fruitfulness of the last batch of seed which exceeds all normal expectations for a crop of wheat.
But the story takes a while to get there as the farmer’s hopes are frustrated over and over again.
So I wonder, where is the impact of the story for us. Is it in the long sequence of failed sowings, or because of its eventual success, is it about final plenty? Or is it about the patchy and discouraging process that came first?
Learning, ‘gleaning’ the ‘truth’ of the gospels needs effort, patience, commitment and application.
The seed that fell in good soil is like a person who hears, understands and bears fruit, both in deeds and in renewed life. It’s typical of Jesus that hearing and doing belong together. Jesus’ words were always and still are intended to affect the way we live as we let the ‘seed’ grow within us, as we water it with the life-giving water that Jesus offers.
What happens when a seed grows? Think about seeds… imagine one resting in the palm of your hand (get one to hold, if you have one or more to hand!) Seeds change from hard and small, to flexible and flourishing.
Sometimes we can only grow when we make room for Jesus’ teachings (the seed of God’s Word) to take root in our minds and ruminate there as faith flourishes in our flexible minds, changes us and reshapes our lives, reorientates us ‘kingdom-wards’.
Perhaps we can listen for and truly ‘hear’ God’s word in fresh and deeper ways.
This is a parable about Jesus himself, a man who teaches in parables. Jesus himself is the sower, and in his ministry the Kingdom of God has arrived and is being spread and sown extravagantly. But it grows and advances gradually and quietly, perhaps after setbacks and delays, but always there is the promise and prospect of abundant fruit, rising up to harvest and ultimately to ‘bread’ to nourish the world… faith to feed our spirits.
This ‘careless’ farmer is an extravagant sower, casting seeds lavishly, regardless of whether they take root or not. Jesus is not careless, but generous, lavish with his message of justice, joy, hope, peace and life in abundance for all, not just a few.
This is good news for you, your friends and our communities! So, this process of the coming kingdom never ends, it is a constant work of sowing seeds of God’s Word for me and you.