Looking at what the lectionary leaves in, we find the rare parable that includes the backstage discussion from after the show. I think it is only this parable of the sower and the somewhat less famous parable of the wheat and the weeds where Jesus actually explains to his friends what the parable means. He gives a symbol by symbol discussion of most of it.
Unlike Mark and Luke, Matthew doesn’t bother to tell us that the seed this farmer is sowing is the word.
Our hearts, the explanation reveals, are the various kinds of soils the word is sown in.
None of them quite tell us who the sower is. I guess they figured even the disciples could make out who came spreading the Word of God.
Some seed falls on the road. The birds eat it up. Jesus explains that this is the devil snatching the word away.
Some seed falls amidst the rocks on the roadside. There’s not much room for roots between the rocks, so the plants get scorched before they can flourish. Jesus explains that this is what happens when someone accepts the faith but the word can’t put down deep roots. Times get tough, and it withers.
Some falls where other plants were growing first. The thorny bushes had a head start, so the poor little seeds were deprived of what they needed from sun and soil. Jesus explains that this refers to people who have other stuff taking priority — “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth” for instance. Those big tough plants throw shade on the word and suck away what could nourish it.
Some (thankfully!) falls in the field where it is supposed to be, where it can stay planted, put down roots, grow up tall, and bear a hearty crop. Jesus explains that this good soil refers to people who hear and understand. These are the ones where the word grows and bear fruit.
The Call to Nurture Ourselves as Soil
By hearing and understanding maybe we put down roots, grow up past the existing thorns and weeds, soak up nourishment from sun and soil. If we compare with the Isaiah quotation in the verses the Lectionary omits, it would seem like this hearing and understanding doesn’t entirely depend on us. It seems like the disciples were chosen to hear and understand.
So like a good farmer, we have to take care of the soil. Till it. Break up the clods of clay. Pull out the rocks. Put in nourishing organic matter. Keep it a living thing.
I need to make sure I do whatever is in my power to listen and learn, to be the kind of soil that hears and understands. If I’m to be good soil, I’ll need to tend my life so it is fresh and alive. Fill it with what is good and nourishing. Take out what presents obstacles.
The Issue of Targeting
There is one more very interesting thing in this passage.
Think about that sower.
The sower goes out to sow. Presumably he’s hoping for a harvest after a few months. So you’d think he’d be careful.
But the sower in the parable?
- Big bag of seeds.
- Throws them wherever.
- Doesn’t seem to care.
Actually I love that. The sower is so generous that he throws the word everywhere, even where it can’t grow. Along the way he feeds the birds.
The Lord is overflowing with seed, hurling it out in a gracious abundance.
Used with permission
Gary Neal Hansen, Ph.D Website & Blog: garynealhansen.com Book: Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers (InterVarsity Press, 2012)