The Parable of the Sower

Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

“Listen!” says Jesus, “a sower went out to sow”.

It’s such a familiar parable, isn’t it?

How many sermons have we heard about the different sorts of ground that the seeds land on and what happens to them.

And maybe some of us wonder what sort of ground we are and whether we’re up to scratch when it comes to producing a good harvest.

But this isn’t the parable of the seeds or the parable of the soils.

Rather, Jesus calls it the parable of the sower, and that suggests this is where our focus needs to be.

So, what can we learn about the sower?

Well, first of all, he’s not a good farmer.

No self-respecting farmer would just fling seeds about all over the place with no preparation or thought for where they might end up.

Good farmers prepare the ground first and carefully sow their seeds in the best possible way and in the best possible places to ensure a good harvest with minimal waste and cost.

They wouldn’t dream of chucking seeds about in unlikely places on the off-chance that something might grow.

Such incompetence and wastefulness on the part of the sower probably made the farmers in Jesus’s audience laugh.

This is obviously not a story about farming methods, though.

Instead, like all parables, it’s trying to tell us something about God and his kingdom by giving us a new perspective.

It’s not meant to be a human view of things, but a God view of things.

And it’s not always easy to understand the God view of things.

When Jesus tells us “Let anyone with ears listen” he’s recognising this, telling us that what he’s saying is something we’re going to have to think about because its meaning isn’t obvious.

What I see in this parable is someone who is recklessly extravagant.

The sower doesn’t care if what he’s doing is efficient or likely to lead to good results.

He just wants to get as much seed out there as possible.

God’s concern is not with cutting costs, being efficient, or concentrating resources in the places that will give the best returns.

Rather, he’s interested in offering the possibility of hope and new life to all, regardless of cost or the likelihood of a good response.

So, he showers his grace and love in the most unlikely of places in the hope of seeing some growth.

God’s generous nature is on show in this parable, and while it might seem reckless, inefficient, or wasteful to us, it seems to be how he works.

Take the wedding at Cana, for example.

The guests had run out of wine.

This was indeed a social disaster for the bride and groom, but really everyone was too drunk to care what they consumed at that point.

But, instead of calculating how much people had already drunk, and assessing whether they really needed good quality alcohol, Jesus provided gallons of the best wine out of sheer generosity.

And the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus didn’t carefully ration out the food so that everyone had their daily recommended amount of bread and fish.

Rather, he provided so much that many baskets could be filled with the leftovers.

Throughout Jesus’s ministry we see him offering the words of God to everyone, not just those who are best prepared and ready to receive it.

We see him loving, healing, and teaching to all, even helping ten lepers when only one would come back to thank him.

Jesus doesn’t make people sit tests or prove themselves ready to receive what he has to offer.
He doesn’t ask them to recite creeds or prove they know the ten commandments.

Instead, he throws out his gifts of grace, forgiveness, and acceptance recklessly in the hope that some will accept them.

We can turn to nature for more examples of God’s character, as well.

Plants produce millions more seeds than they need, so that the world can be filled with colour and life.

Birds and animals exist in an amazing array of types, colours, and sizes, from the tiniest insects to the huge blue whale.

The universe contains billions upon billions of stars and planets.

And every human being is unique and special.

Is all this necessary or efficient?

Probably not, but it makes life richer and more fulfilling.

Of course, there are different ways to respond to God’s offer of grace and new life.

Some just sneer and turn away.

Some are enthusiastic at first but quickly find it all too hard and give up.

Others are sincere and dedicated but then other things get in the way, and they are lost in a maze of worries and other concerns.

And then there are those who receive faith, deepen it, and do good things for God and neighbour.

I don’t say this to be judgemental.

If truth be told we’re probably all different sorts of ground at different stages in our faith journey.

There may be times when the claims and demands of faith seem ridiculous to us.

There may be times when seeds of a deepening faith are snatched away from us when we’re not paying attention to them.

Or when a mountain top experience like a particularly uplifting service or reflective quiet day is followed by a return to earth with a thump – to our ordinary everyday lives with their stresses and strains and challenges to our faith.

Or when we get caught up in what Jesus calls the cares of this world which can choke, stifle, or drain the life energy from our hearts and souls.

But then there are the times when we do gain new insights, learn more about our faith and ourselves.

And there are times when we do continue to change and grow so that we are always coming closer to being the people God means us to be.

I also believe that our loving and merciful God knows and understands the difference between seeds that can’t grow because of the conditions they find themselves in and seeds that refuse to grow, and that he responds with grace, mercy, and justice.

So, if we follow a ridiculously generous God who wants as many people as possible to come to him, and will go anywhere to try to draw others in, what does this mean for us?

Well, for one thing it means that we are, in the words of Mother Theresa, called to be faithful, not successful.

Just as the sower threw his seeds all over the place without knowing the outcome, and while understanding that some wouldn’t grow, we too are called to offer our gifts generously to the world regardless of the results.

Such an approach challenges us to live without judging others, without wondering whether someone deserves our help, without knowing whether our efforts are likely to work, and without knowing what the fruits of our labours will be.

And it challenges us also to go out and find those who need that sort of love and acceptance from us and offer it freely and without conditions.

This isn’t an easy path at times, but we can rely on God’s help and strengthening along the way.

And we can take heart from the fact that with every effort we make and every seed we plant we are taking part in the glorious and joyful generosity and love of our God, who gives without counting the cost and rejoices over every sprouting seed.