The Sower Still Sows
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“A sower went out to sow” (Matthew 13:3).
“A sower went out to sow” (Matthew 13:3).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Leaving the house where He was staying in Capernaum, Jesus went out and sat by the lake. As large crowds gathered around Him, Jesus got into a boat and sat down to teach. With the rise of land on the west serving as a natural amphitheater, the people stood on the shore and listened as Jesus told a series of parables.
Parables are stories of comparison, using something familiar in human experience to teach and to bring home a better understanding of the kingdom of God. The Greek word means literally “to throw alongside,” as in “throwing” a story of something well-known alongside a corresponding lesson with a deeper, hidden meaning. So, in more ways than one, “The Parable of the Sower” is a fitting example for Jesus to use to explain to His disciples how to understand parables.
|"The Sower" by Eugene Burnand|
Much of Palestine consists of rocky elevations where the underlying rock comes close to the surface and has only a thin covering of earth. Some of the seeds fall in this stony soil. Since the rock holds the heat, there is a quick sprouting and shooting up out of the ground, but a still quicker scorching by the sun, since the roots have no chance to enter deeply into the ground to find life-giving water.
Other seeds fall among the thorns, where the plow was used, but had not succeeded in clearing away all the thorn roots. The hardier weeds steal air, light, and moisture from the tender stalks of grain, and choke them out.
But other seeds fall upon good soil. The good soil produces one hundred, sixty, or thirty times what is sown—yields unheard of until the last century with modern tillage practices, herbicides, and hybrid seed.
Jesus’ closing words: “He who has ears, let him hear,” hint that there is a hidden meaning in the story, and that every hearer should find this meaning and apply it properly to spiritual life. Later, as He’s alone with His disciples, Jesus explains the parable, providing them a concrete example of how they can find the hidden meaning in other parables and apply them to their own spiritual lives.
The seed that is sown for the kingdom is the Word of God. Jesus is the Sower. He sows the seed of the Word, either personally, as in the days of His earthly ministry, or through His servants, as now.
But there are also four distinct kinds of spiritual soil.
There are some that come into contact with the Church. They hear about Jesus. But they do not take the Word into their hearts and minds. It never becomes a real factor in their lives. In this case, the Evil One, Satan, has little difficulty in snatching away the truth, which they’ve just barely grasped.
Some people accept the Word eagerly. But their faith is not rooted deeply enough to withstand disappointment, tribulations, or the resulting persecution on account of the Word. It is interesting that in this parable the sun is used to represent tribulation and persecution. The seed that is sown must have sun to grow as it should. That’s what makes it produce a crop. Just as little as grain grows without the sun, so little does the Word thrive in us without our suffering “because of the Word.” In good soil, the sun (or persecution) encourages and enables growth. But where the soil is shallow, where the rock (the hidden hardness in a man’s heart) is found, the same conditions that cause others to grow in faith, lead to falling away.
Not much different are those who hear the Word with at least an intellectual acceptance, but their hearts have not been properly cleared. The cares and worries of this world, or the love and desire of riches, fill their hearts and capture their attention, and choke out any faith in their souls.
But by God’s grace, some hear the Word and listen to it.
Some would try to limit the parable to what happens in the very first contact of the Word with the human heart. But that puts the emphasis in the wrong place. It would simply suggest that some soils are fitter for receiving the seed of everlasting life than others. But by nature, none of us is fit soil for the seed of the Word. Our hearts are hardened like stone, full of thorns and thistles and all kinds of noxious weeds. We need to be prepared and tilled by the Sower.
What the parable and its explanation describe is the final fate of the Word in the hearts of men. When life is done, some show a harvest, all the rest show none. Some never let the Word in, some never let it root, and some choke its growth. But this final fate of the Word is shown us now, before life is done. This is done because, though no man can change himself, God has means to change us all into good soil for His Word—that very same Word.
Jesus, the Sower, comes to sow His Word. Wherever He goes, He proclaims His Law and Gospel. In His Law, He declares that we are sinful, prone to worship all sorts of false gods, and have no hope of saving ourselves, any more than a field of grain can sow and harvest itself. But Jesus also announces the joyous news that all who trust in Him will be saved. He sows this seed of salvation everywhere, because He has died for all and desires all to believe and be saved.
Sadly, not all will believe. In fact, even as Jesus proclaims this message, His enemies are growing in numbers and are plotting against Him. Giving in to the temptations of the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh, they have Him arrested, tortured, and crucified. But three days later, He rises from the dead.
Risen and ascended, Jesus still comes to His people. The Sower still sows His seed of the Gospel so that many might hear and believe. He sends His apostles to make disciples of all nations. How? By baptizing and teaching all that He has commanded. In other words, He sends His apostles to sow the Word.
The apostles have long since been called to glory, but the sowing continues.
The task of the Church is to sow the Word—to proclaim our Lord’s Law and Gospel, the Word of the Lord, whom the devil, the world and the sinful flesh can no longer attack. But here’s the rub. Since the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh cannot attack the Lord of the Church, they do the cowardly thing. They attack His Bride. They seek to assault, defile, shame, and destroy His holy Church.
We Christians must be aware that the Word will be met with resistance. The devil will bombard those who hear the Gospel with all sorts of other messages to confuse them, snatch away the Word, and lead them to unbelief instead.
Satan will incite pressure and persecution upon the Church—sometimes in the form of physical violence, sometimes in the form of bad press or ridicule from popular culture. His purpose is to lead the weak and uninformed away by promising peace instead of strife; and, tragically, many will listen and follow. This is the stony ground of the parable, where the plants are scorched by the sun.
The world will also assault those who hear the Word with all sorts of cares of this world—it will tempt them to compromise or ignore the faith because it’s far more profitable to do so. It will tempt them to fill their life with too many other activities—even otherwise good activities—that will take away from the limited time and resources they could use to grow in their faith and serve the Lord and neighbor. This, our Lord says, is the weedy ground of the parable.
Christians must expect attacks when we faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When tempted to compromise, we must remain faithful to Christ alone. When such pressure comes, we are to hear the Word, meditate upon it, commend all things to the Lord in prayer, and proclaim the Word even more, as we rejoice in the salvation bought for us by Christ’s precious blood.
This is the Law; but we dare not ignore the rest of the parable, for there is such joyous Good News here, too. The Sower still sows. He will see to it that the Word is proclaimed. And, you see, wherever the Word is, He is.
The Sower still sows! By His Word, the only Son of God gives you forgiveness today. He who washed your sins away in Holy Baptism continues to keep you cleansed now. He speaks His Word of Holy Absolution, declaring that He has died for all of your sins. He feeds you with His own body and blood, to strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith until life everlasting.
This Sower is your Savior, and He does not abandon you. In Him you have forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is why we remain faithful to the message. True, we remain faithful to His Word because His Law warns us that to abandon it leads to eternal judgment. But there is a better reason. His Gospel gives eternal life—nothing else does. Why would we ever leave it, taint it, or turn from it to another message? And how can we not proclaim it to others? The Lord promises:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
The Sower, who shed His blood for you, still sows. He plants His Word of grace in you to give you life. He sustains you in your Baptismal life by feeding you with His Word and Sacraments. The devil, the world, and the Old Adam will rage and spit. But they’ve already lost. The Sower has defeated them at the cross, and He gives that victory to you. Nothing will keep Him from sowing His Word. Nothing will keep Him from declaring to you this Good News: You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.