Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9
The Goodness of God
1 During the day, Jesus left the house to sit along the Sea of Galilee so he could teach the people. 2 So many people gathered to hear Jesus, he had to get into a boat and sit off shore while people stood along the shoreline. 3 Jesus told parables to explain many things about God's kingdom.
"Listen!" Jesus said. "There was a farmer who threw seeds around to plant grain in his fields. 4 As he threw the seeds around, some of them fell on the path where the farmer walked. The birds came and gobbled all of it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocks only covered with a little soil. They quickly sprouted because the soil was so thin. 6 When the sun came up, it dried the new plants out since they did not have long enough roots to get water. 7 Other seeds fell on ground which also had thorn seedlings. The thorn plants grew so quickly and thickly, the grain seeds could not grow. 8 But some seeds fell on good soil. And the seeds produced grain, one hundred times, sixty times, and thirty times more than what the farmer planted. 9 Listen to what I say!"
The parable of the sower and the seed stood as a favorite parable in the early church. This shortened version from Matthew can be divided into three parts: the gathering of the crowds, the waste of the sower, and the abundant harvest.
1 On that day, having departed the house, JESUS sat down (to teach) beside the lake. 2 A large crowd gathered toward HIM, so that HE went to sit in a boat and the entire crowd stood on the shore.
13:1 "JESUS sat down (to teach)" Sitting was the position of teacher. Taken with the information in 13:2, teaching was implied.
The contemporaries of Jesus gathered around him to learn about the Kingdom. In this gospel passage, the crowd was so great, Jesus had to sit in a boat off shore to teach. But Jesus taught in such a way to cause frustration and insight. Instead of teaching clearly, he allowed the listener to but the pieces together. In this way, the listener (and the reader) could grow spiritually.
What are your favorite parables? Why are they your favorite?
3 He told them many (things) in parables, saying, "Look! The sower went out to sow (the seeds). 4 As he sowed, some (seeds) fell along the (narrow) path (in the field), and, having come, the birds ate them up. 5 Other (seeds) fell on the rocky ground where there was not much soil, and soon they spouted , since they did not have the depth of soil (to grow). 6 But, since the sun had risen (high in the sky), (the sprouts) were burned and, since, they had no roots (to grow), they were dried out. 7 Other (seeds) feel among the thorns (seedlings), and the thorns grew up and choked (the seeds).
13:5 "on rocky ground" The ground either had many rocks or there was a thin layer of soil over a rocky base. Considering the seeds could not take firm root, the second interpretation seems most likely.
The parable of the sower and the seed shocked Jesus' audience for wasteful planting and the abundant harvest. Ancient people saw waste as an abuse of the rich. When they discussed economics, most ancient people agreed on two points. First, there was only a limited amount of wealth in the world. Second, God (or the gods) willed the distribution of that wealth within a rigid social class system. The rich (five percent of the population) held ninety percent of the wealth and the poor battled for survival. The ancients would consider our modern notions of creating wealth and individual betterment absurd.
Imagine the audience's attitude toward waste. They would recycle any useful object and pick up any useful seed so they could replant it in good soil. Yet the farmer in the parable threw seed around without thought. Did he flaunt his wealth? Or, did he totally lack common sense?
How do you view wealth? The rich? How do you use your money wisely? Do you have any hobbies or charities others might see as wasteful? What satisfaction to you derive from spending money on them?
8 But other (seeds) feel on good soil and kept producing fruit, some indeed a hundred (times), but some sixty (times) and some thirty (times). 9 Let the (ones) having ears hear!"
In the end, however, the harvest vindicated the farmer's sowing practices. When most people gained yields of two to five times the amount of grain planted, the farmer in the parable gained 30 to 100 times! The yield boggled the mind of the ancients.
Jesus considered this parable important enough to give it two emphatic statements: "Look!" at the beginning and "Those who have ears, listen!" at the end. Why? To emphasize the blessings of God's Kingdom. God's blessings seemed as irrational to Jesus' audience as they do today. God blessed the wicked with riches while the good suffer. Yet, the suffering of the good led to much greater blessings. Such was God's Kingdom.
Like any good story, the parables of Jesus had many levels of meaning. Jesus interpreted this parable for the missionary ministry of the apostles. In 13:18-23, he viewed the sower as the missionary preaching to the crowds. Some in the crowd reject the message outright (like seeds on the hardened path). Others receive the message but are immature and quickly lose interest in the face of opposition (like the seeds on rocky soil which the sun burnt). A third group become Christians but never enjoy spiritual growth, since worries of the world get in the way (like the seeds sown with thorn weeds). The last group grows abundantly in Christ, since they willingly place themselves at risk (like seeds in a deep, rich soil that is turned over and over).
Jesus meant his parables to shock and befuddle his audience for a reason. He told parables to make his audience think. Applied to our modern life, the parable of the sower and the seed still poses a challenge.
How can waste and abundance described blessings in God's kingdom? How can we risk our hearts (like the soil in the parable) to receive God's Word (like the seeds)?