The Parable of the Sower
(Is.55:10-11; Rom.8:18-23; Mt.13:1-23)
‘Faith is a free gift from God.’ I expect we’ve all heard that before.
As a child I thought that’s marvelous; it means that everyone has faith, for surely no-one would reject a free gift!
But later I learnt that some people don’t have any faith at all. So, I wondered if God only offers his free gift to some people. But Scripture tells us that isn’t true (Rom.12:3; Acts 14:27).
Since then, I’ve learnt that while faith really is a free gift, some people don’t like accepting any gifts.
I was once at the Sydney Opera House with four spare tickets to a show. I simply couldn’t give them away. The people looked at me with suspicion. One Christmas, I also gave someone a nice gift, but when she went home, she left that gift behind, unopened. She clearly didn’t want it.
Why won’t some people accept gifts? The reasons can be complex, but among them is pride; it takes some humility to accept a gift. Some people also have a poor self-image; they don’t think they’re worthy of any gifts. As well, accepting a gift can mean making ourselves vulnerable to the giver, and some people don’t want to do that.
So, there are two sides to gift-giving. There’s the giving, and then there’s the receiving.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, a farmer lavishly scatters his precious seeds wherever he goes. Some seed falls on the pathway and is eaten by the birds. Some falls on rocky ground and starts to grow, but soon withers in the hot sun. Some seed lands in the thorns, where it’s choked. And some seed falls on good rich soil, where it produces an abundant harvest of fruit.
Living in a rural society, Jesus enjoyed talking about farming, and like all his parables, this one can be read in various ways. One way is to focus on the different elements of the story, like the seed, the sower, the soil and the harvest.
The seed symbolises the Gospel, the Good News, which is Christ himself. It’s the story of God’s love for us, which is not only abundant and free, but also good and nourishing. If we accept this seed and nurture its growth, it will surely produce a great harvest of fruit in us.
The sower is God himself, who lavishly spreads his message of eternal love everywhere, through Jesus Christ and all his creation. It’s available to everyone, regardless of who we are. It’s simply there for the taking.
The soil is our human hearts. But are our hearts ready to receive such a gift? Are our hearts filled with rich, deep soil? Or are they too shallow and too cluttered with rocks, weeds and thorns to grow anything? If we don’t clear away the rubbish and develop some deep soil, God’s seed will never take root in us.
And finally, there’s the harvest. This parable promises that the effort of nurturing the seed of faith in ourselves will be more than worth it, for the return will be thirty, sixty or even a hundredfold.
But before there can be any harvest, we must first welcome that seed of faith.
It was St Augustine who said that faith is not something we merit, for it’s always a free gift from God. And it was St Paul who said that it’s God who gives the growth, because faith is impossible without the grace by which we’re taught to know Christ (1Cor.3:7).
Fortunately, God doesn’t give up. As Isaiah says in our first reading, God’s Word will ultimately be fruitful.
Like the gentle rains that soften the earth and make it rich and fertile, so Jesus is constantly working in our daily lives, trying to break up the hard ground of our hearts. He’s encouraging us to clear away the obstacles that choke our growth, preparing us for a rich harvest.
Let’s close with a story. In 1973, some archaeologists found seeds from an extinct Judean date palm buried under rubble at the ancient fortress of Masada, in Israel. Those seeds were around 2,000 years old, and that tree had been extinct since 500A.D.
The seeds were lovingly planted and in 2005 a date palm emerged from the soil. They called it ‘Methuselah.’ [i]
The message for us today is this: It’s never too late. The seed of God’s Word, dropped into the human heart, never dies.
As Emily Dickinson once wrote,
‘A word is dead when it is said, some say.
I say it just begins to live that day.’ [ii]