Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (4th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 10—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
July 10, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed recording in Matthew 13:
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
It really wasn’t going all that well. Some Galilean Pharisees had engaged Jesus in hostile confrontations. They accused Jesus of casting out demons by using the power of the devil. Some of the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign to prove He was the Son of David, the promised Messiah-Savior. And the crowds of people themselves had failed to grasp Jesus’ true identity. Despite His ongoing ministry of words and deeds, so many people in Israel were not responding in faith and discipleship. The ministry of the Son of God Himself was met with widespread rejection, animosity, and lethal opposition. Many people whom Jesus encountered and reached out to turned away from Him. Jesus’ own ministry was not being very successful. Why was that?
The answer is found in the parable of the Sower. It gives us the why about the fact that Jesus’ own ministry wasn’t all that successful. It reveals to us why Jesus’ ministry in Galilee was proceeding the way it was, being met with negative responses, and hatred, and deadly hostility. The answer is all wrapped up in the indiscriminate way in which Jesus goes about the task of spreading the Good News that He is the promised Messiah-Savior.
A parable is often defined as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. So let’s first look at the earthly connection and talk for a moment about agriculture in the first century. The field for growing had to be prepared just as it does today. The plowman would guide the plow with one hand (pulled by a yoke or pair of oxen) and at the same time press the plow down into the ground. This was some real work. The plow would tear up the ground in an irregular, haphazard way—no nice, near furrows with the soil turned over like today. After the plow had torn up the ground, the plowman would walk along the rough rows and brake up the lumps with a wooden or iron hammer. Finally, the farmer might then yoke his oxen to a harrow of brushwood and drive them back and forth to rake the ground.
Then the sower would go out to sow. He carried the seed in a basket, a sack, or even a fold in his garment held between his left arm and his body. The sower would walk back and forth across the field, scattering the seed with his right hand. The sower would be followed by the ox-drawn harrow or by a boy driving all the sheep and goats and calves in order to trample the seed into the ground. That’s how you planted in the first century biblical world.
But take a look at Jesus’ sower. There’s no indication that he’s even trying to keep the seed in the prepared field. This sower has no apparent regard for where this seed lands! Some seeds fell along the path and became bird-seed. Jesus wants us to know that there is a battle going on for the lives of people and that sometimes Satan simply takes away the message about the reign of God that Jesus is proclaiming and the hearers never understand it or even begin to believe.
Some seeds fell on rocky ground where they didn’t have much soil. They sprang up quickly and died of heat-stroke. Jesus wants us to know that some who hear Jesus’ preaching and initially believe and follow Him, but for some reason, they don’t put down roots deeply into Jesus and His truth. When they experience personal difficulty or opposition because they are following Jesus, they turn away and no longer live as His disciples.
Next we have seeds that the indiscriminate sower tossed and they fell among thorns and were choked to death. Jesus wants us to know that some who hear the Word of Jesus initially hear, and believe, and follow, but then get choked off and distracted when wealth seduces them and the general worries of life in this sinful, fallen world slowly suffocate the hope and joy in their lives brought by the power of the Good News of the reign of God.
Most of the seed that Jesus’ sower sows never produces any fruit. The seed falls all over the place, a lot of it missing the good, well-prepared soil. It’s certainly not a very efficient way of doing things. This is not a very productive way to operate, as most of the seed doesn’t produce anything. But grace trumps efficiency!
The indiscriminate sower in the parable is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus is describing His mission and His ministry to all people. He is the one who went forth to sow—to be born in a manger at Bethlehem, to preach and teach the Good News of God’s Kingdom now a reality in Jesus Himself. Jesus is the One who came down from heaven to suffer and die on a cross to pay for the sins of the whole world and to rise again triumphing over death so that all people might have forgiveness and everlasting life. Jesus, the Sower, went out to sow. And Jesus is not selective with whom He shares the Good News of God’s Kingdom. He took the seed, which is the Word of the kingdom, the Good News message that He is God’s Son made flesh who would give His life on the cross for the sins of the world, and indiscriminately dispensed it.
Therefore, Jesus’ ministry doesn’t appear successful because Jesus isn’t always planting in the prepared soil. Some seed falls on good soil. Other seed falls along the paths, the rocks, and the thorns where people live. But most important, Jesus is graciously giving all people an opportunity to come to saving faith in Him as Lord and Savior by hearing the Word. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17) And Jesus is also inviting us who have ears to hear and to understand that this is how the Kingdom of God works. The Word of the Gospel of forgiveness and eternal life isn’t reserved just for those who will receive it. It is broadcast and spread to everyone. Some seeds will bear fruit. Other seeds, for the reasons Jesus’ gave in the parable, will not. The parable of the Sower and the seed teaches us Christians a sobering reality. You can be right, you can do right, and you can get it right in your participation in the ministry of Jesus, who is present as the baptizing and the teaching of His Word continues—and still for many, many people to whom you share the Gospel Word, there will be no faith, no understanding, and no discipleship.
I get asked time to time if our congregation’s Food Shelf Ministry is successful. Sometimes I’ll ask in response, “Well, what do you think?” Frequently the return answer is something along the lines, “Well, it’s helping people out, but I don’t see any of them coming to our church.” And that’s true. To my knowledge, not one of the clients that we serve at the Food Shelf has attended worship here. And no one has joined. Does that mean we stop sowing seeds? Does that means because these pews haven’t benefited that we should stop doing what we are doing in sharing Jesus’ love and Word with people? Of course not! We continue to do as our Lord did and indiscriminately sow the seed of the Word, because some of it will fall on good soil and produce fruit!
The same can be said with many of our ministry ventures—Vacation Bible School, which is coming up in a few weeks, Sunday School, Preschool, tag sales, and craft fairs. All these are moments where we are sowing seeds, the seed of God’s Word that Jesus Christ has died for the sins of the world and is risen again to make people His sons and daughters. In our personal lives, think of the conversations you’ve had, the moments you’ve talked about Jesus, the times you pray for and with people. These are seeds sown indiscriminately so that many might hear the Gospel and believe and follow Jesus as His disciples.
So we will not allow ourselves to become discouraged when our mission and ministry plans don’t go the way we would hope. Jesus’ ministry didn’t go swimmingly, but He didn’t stop sowing the seed of the Word of the Kingdom. That seed has been flung and sown near and far, and we will continue to plant the Word of forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ wherever we can, because we know that some of that seed will fall on good soil. That seed will then produce precious fruit, children of God in Christ, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold. Amen.