The start of today’s parable, commonly called “The Parable of the Sower,” is a bit puzzling. It seems like we should call it “The Parable of the Sloppy Sower,” as seed seems to be flying all over the place, with little consideration of its chance to land in a good place to grow.
But since the sower is God—in particular, Jesus walking among us as God in the flesh—I hesitate to use such a title. There must be something deeper going on.
Now, some would argue that parables are best left unexplained, so the hearers can meditate on them in their undiluted form, allowing the Spirit to instruct them in a deeper understanding of the story’s meaning. But Jesus explained this parable to his puzzled disciples, as well as one about weeds and wheat growing together, so I feel comfortable trying to break his lesson down for you.
The seed is humanity, but there seems to be something extra thrown in, an infusion of holy DNA made possible by the coming of Jesus Christ. What I hear in this parable is that we all have in us the potential to grow in holiness because of Christ. We are also supposed to bear fruit, spreading holiness to other people and growing the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Properly tended, holy fruit begets holy fruit.
What I also hear is that it helps to land in the right setting. Sadly, some people land on the path—that is, they find themselves in a place or time where it’s difficult for their understanding of what Christ means to the world to even begin to germinate. For example, imagine being a child born in one of these places:
- A Muslim household in Taliban-controlled country.
- A village in North Korea.
- An atheist home in the United States.
These children may hear the name of Jesus at some point, but the devil will have a much easier time keeping them from developing their potential as followers of Christ.
For those of us who gather in church to worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, it’s probably more important that we focus on the other places where seed may land. We first need to understand where we’re trying to establish roots.
In the other three examples—rocky ground, thorny ground, and good soil—something does sprout and begin to grow. There is a point where all three types would call themselves “Christian.” The distinctions among the three depend on the end results. And among us in church today, it’s distinctly possible we’re a mix of the three growing together. Particularly in our part of the world, the developed, affluent part, it’s hard to distinguish the three.
Rocky ground types normally don’t last long when persecution comes because of their Christian beliefs, but persecution is not something we have to contend with in any serious way. Would our faith be strong enough to sustain us if we found ourselves unemployable because of our beliefs? Would it sustain us if we were tortured because of our beliefs? What if we were threatened with death because of our beliefs? Many of our Christian brothers and sisters in other countries know the answers to these questions we seldom face.
There’s a very good chance many of us are growing among the thorns. The United States of America is one of the thorniest plots of ground on earth. Thorns represent distractions, those things that draw us away from the light that sustains us. Those thorns eventually can grab us and entangle us in ways deadly to our faith, and the whole time, we’re acting like old Brer Rabbit, happy to be in the briar patch.
What has hold of you that keeps you from a deeper relationship with God? Sports? Suddenly, they’re everywhere, in your community and on TV, and Sunday morning is no exception. Other leisure activities? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life, and everyone needs a vacation, but does leisure enhance or detract from your relationship with God?
Work? Hey, if you’re a workaholic, you can stay at it 12 hours a day, seven days a week. You’ll probably get rich, or at least find yourself moderately well-off. But is your understanding of those big questions of life any deeper? Will the money and possessions sustain you when those questions trouble you?
Good soil is where we want to be, of course. It is made up of all sorts of nutrients, a mix of God’s word, prayer, self-discipline, and religious practices like worship, study and the taking of communion. Whenever we root ourselves in these activities, the Holy Spirit enters us, changes us, and makes us more like what God intended us to be.
Now, if you’re finding yourself a little frustrated or concerned, here’s an important secret to reading parables. Like all metaphors, they break down if stretched too far. The plants in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower are stuck where they land. You are not stuck. You can move to better soil. You can reach down and improve the soil around you.
And fruit will come. You’ll see it in yourself. You’ll see it in your children and grandchildren, who eagerly look to you for guidance. And that fruit will continue to spread. Some of you may even find yourselves plowing ground where there once was only an infertile, hard-packed path, going to people who need to hear about Christ for the first time.
As for all that sloppy sowing by God—well, all we’re talking about is potential goodness finding its way into the world, right? Of course God puts that potential everywhere, even in the difficult places. His kingdom will one day be complete.