Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23

The Parable of the Sower

     1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

     18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the one who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the one who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the one who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Yesterday, when our Reflection focused on the first eighteen verses of this chapter. we thought about Jesus’ explanation of why he made so much use of parables as a way to teach people about the life of faith and the kingdom of God. (The scholars say about a third of his teaching took the form of parables.)

Today we’re thinking about the explanation Jesus gives of the meaning of the Parable of the Sower. Jesus says that in the parable, the four different landing spots of the seed represent four different responses to the word of God when people hear it. The word just ‘bounces off’ some people without making much of an impression on them. Other people embrace the word until it has a cost – until it causes them trouble, then they walk away. Still other people receive the word and start to walk in faith, but then later they decide they’re too busy for all this faith stuff, and they just drift away. But some people really let the word really take root in them, and eventually bear fruit abundantly for the kingdom.

Most of the time when you hear lessons and sermons on this parable, it’s presented as an exhortation to ‘be the good soil.’  We’re told that the point is to embrace the word and to be fruitful.

But in recent years, some New Testament scholars have come up with a new interpretation. They say the real point of the parable is to encourage Jesus’ disciples when they were frustrated by the fact that not everyone was coming to follow Jesus. According to this new interpretation, Jesus intended this parable to explain to his disciples that this was the way of things: Not everyone will embrace the word and commit their hearts to a life of discipleship.

Personally, as I’ve read and thought about this parable, I’ve come to wonder whether Jesus might actually meant for it to be heard and understood in both of these ways, depending on who the audience was. Remember what Jesus said in the passage we thought about yesterday? He said the disciples had been given the ability to understand what others could not. So don’t you think maybe some of the parables were meant to communicate different lessons to different people – and maybe at different points in the walk of faith?

So for people who were just beginning to follow Jesus, or even just thinking about following him, maybe this parable really was intended as an exhortation. Maybe it was meant to tell people that there would be hardship, a cost of discipleship, so they should expect that and not give up. Maybe it was meant to tell new followers that worldly distractions would tempt them to wander away from the faith, but that those who really embrace and nurture the word within themselves could expect to become fruitful disciples.

And maybe for those who had really taken the word into themselves and committed their lives to Jesus, this parable was meant to help them deal with the fact that in spite of their best efforts, sometimes the harvest would seem depressingly thin. To tell them that if they persist in ‘sowing the word,’ sometimes there would be an abundant, even a ridiculously abundant crop, as ridiculous as a hundredfold return on scattered seed.

That’s a lesson that those of us in the church need to be reminded of from time to time. It’s easy for us to get discouraged when the church isn’t full and its mission isn’t widely embraced. So it’s important that we be reminded that even for those who were taught personally by Jesus, there were seasons of discouragement and frustration.

When you think about it, Jesus might have intentionally come up with a parable that teaches different lessons to different people at different stages of their journey of faith.

In fact, I think you could make case that this Parable of the Sower might even have a third application. It might have something to say to us about how we receive and nurture the word in different seasons of our lives. Maybe when we’re kids, it bounces off. Later we pass through different seasons of growth and maturity before the word takes root in us and we become genuinely productive disciples.

So as we think about this famous Parable of the Sower, we should probably reflect on the idea that our master’s genius allowed him to come up with parables that can mean different things to different people – and at different stages in our respective walks of faith.

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the reminder of the things that can stand in the way of our fruitfulness for you, and we ask for your help in resisting those hardships and distractions. We ask also for encouragement and patience as we try to share your word with those around us day by day. Amen.

Grace, Peace and Patience,