Isaiah 55: 10-13; Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
So another of those parables – nice stories that Jesus told – here we go again, you may say. I’ve heard it all before.
Watch this VIDEO and you will remember I think:
We know all this. We preach the good news – share the story – and so many people just don’t stay the distance!
Here’s a scarier video which our kids watched in church:
When I asked them about the lesson from this version of the parable one bright lad said: “Don’t be a seed!” I love kids!
Either way, the interpretation provides an excellent sermon outline, of several points:
1) Seed that falls on the path — when the word is heard, but not really understood.
2) Seed that falls on rocky ground — when the word is received with initial enthusiasm, but without the putting-down of roots through regular devotional practice.
3) Seed that falls among weeds — when temptations choke out faith.
4) Seed that falls on good soil and thrives.
Isn’t this the parable of the sower? We know all this!
Can’t we learn a lesson about agriculture here? Or at least apply the principles to the Christian life or the church? In fact – if we see it as a parable about the success and failure of the church – then it can be a useful way of explaining why we are not always successful. The early church would have found it useful in understanding what was happening when people turned away.
- The preacher is the sower
- His sermons are good or bad seeds? Well one has to assume they are Kingdom seeds…
- And if he fails – well is it not something to do with the people who listen. It must be their fault, surely?
You can see where that goes. It can be used to justify why people don’t believe. The modern world is very bad and “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it (the message or word of the preacher), making it unfruitful.” Of course all of that is partly true.
Parables are interesting though. Most parables are not simple stories – as if Jesus were speaking to poor illiterate Galileans or rural folk with stories because they’re easy. They’re actually quite challenging – most are not explained at all. The word “parable” literally means that which is thrown alongside other things – thus creating the possibility of a comparison. The listeners had to come to their own conclusions usually.
And that’s probably a good description about preaching generally – the individual takes something from it and hopefully takes it to heart. It’s not just the exchange of information. Its God speaking – amazingly even through me – into other lives. And like a hose pipe over a bunch of people – different people get wet from different drops of water.
SO WHAT ABOUT THIS ONE?
What’s it mean? What’s it really about? Is there something we are missing here?
- It’s a story – a parable about soils! Yet it is still called the parable of the sower!
- And of course it’s also a very funny story! It’s a classic TUI advert. A farmer would say at the end when Jesus says: “He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” – Yeah right! A good return would have been five fold. Or it could be a Specsavers ad – did he count right? – did he not mean 10, 6 or 3 times what was sown?
- The story has a strange and almost unbelievable abundance thrown in to this account – when this works it really does work! Yay farmer! Yay sower! Yay soil!
- But there is also a recklessness about the sower. If it is really about the sower – and the sower is actually God – then surely he lacks some insight into agriculture. He seems to chuck the seed in strange places – why the path for example? Why amongst thorns? Why waste precious seed?There is a strange risk-taking and almost wastage of the seed that perhaps speaks to us of the Sower’s character?
IF IT’S JUST ABOUT SOIL Then we could all simply thank God for the seed and praise ourselves for being good soil. Reminds me of another story about a self-righteous man praying at the temple. But it’s more complicated than that too. Even if you have good soil – and the seed – there are other things required – water, nurture, provision of fertilizer and resilience in a storm. It’s not just about the soil.
You can see how a parable can cause you to wrestle with the possibilities. The LISTENERS would have only heard the story – and would be scratching their heads too. The disciples privately get the explanation or interpretation which gives us the broader view:
The path – if it does not take root the evil one snatches the seed away
Now another person is included – the Devil
Rocky ground – the ground is shallow and the plant doesn’t take root, and it fails when trouble and persecution come along
This would have made sense to the early church
The thorns – well that’s about the man who hears the message but worries of this life and particularly the deceitfulness of wealth make it unfruitful
This especially makes sense to us – but the desire for wealth is not new!
- Jesus – speaking 2000 years ago – also told his listeners “you cannot love God and a wealth” (or mammon).
- Paul – to Timothy –reminds him that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10)
The good soil. Well nothing is said about resisting the evil one, persevering in troubled times and when persecuted – and not worrying about life’s troubles or not being tempted by wealth. It simply says – the good soil is about this – well let me quote verse 23: But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.
He or she hears the word and understands it! The penny drops. Why?
Well it’s all to do with who the sower is. Where your inner life comes from. And the sower is Jesus – or God. Because it’s a parable about the Kingdom. And that means a completely different understanding of the point of life altogether!
It’s not about the church. Like the pastors’ sermon title joke which goes like this: “Be good soil, and give us your money” and she’ll be right!
It’s about listening to the parable the way you should – without the interpretation in the second part. Remember that the disciples only got the details afterwards.
Michael Green in his book “Matthew for today” suggests that listening to the parable is like looking at yourself in a mirror and asking – what is happening in my life? Is God’s Word bouncing off me like the seeds on the path? And so on… You get the point.
If it is a mirror – then what are you seeing when you hear this – is the word of God been eaten by birds in your life? Or is it growing in you? How do you cope with what people say about this Kingdom word that is changing the way you see things? Has your life become too wordly? Have you compromised for the sake of reputation too?
And what about the temptation to obsess over the things of this life – and especially wealth? Remember it’s the deceitfulness of wealth that’s the issue? It tricks you into letting it grow in your heart?
Or do you get it? Do you understand? Is the Kingdom of God coming alive in your life?
You’ll suddenly find a new appreciation for a different kind of fruitfulness.
And as I said to a colleague yesterday while we were mopping up water after our flood here – and the meditation group was trying a new kind of bible meditation (while working) –
What if we are really all of those soils? That they represent different times of our lives? And that we are at risk of becoming hard ground – like a path, or shallow ground – like the rocky soil. I certainly know that we veer towards the soil with weeds that choke us – temptation for accumulating worldly wealth can come along at any stage in life.
Another friend and I were talking about this on Friday morning. You know you can set out in life with the wrong priorities – wanting to accumulate worldly wealth – or you can get obsessed with it later when you are running out of working years and the pressure to have a retirement plan builds.
“… but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it (the seed), making it unfruitful.”
Are you and I really fruitful in God’s Kingdom? Great question.
Let this parable challenge you too!
Prayer For The Day
Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your word.
Fertilize the soil with your Spirit.
Cultivate it with your presence.
Water it with your love.
But, more than that, help us accept responsibility
to be active listeners,
opening our hearts before you. Amen.