The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER IS ONE OF THE MOST FAMILIAR TO ANYONE RAISED IN THE CHURCH, AND I AM SURE THAT YOU HAVE SEEN AN ARTISTIC RENDERING IN SUNDAY SCHOOL OR EVEN ON THE WORSHIP BULLETIN. IT IS FOUND IN ALL THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS, AND HAS PRIDE OF PLACE AS THE FOUNDATION PARABLE FOR ALL THOSE TO FOLLOW. SINCE JESUS INTERPRETS THE PARABLE FOR HIS DISCIPLES, ONE MIGHT WONDER JUST WHAT MORE CAN BE SAID ABOUT IT, ESPECIALLY IN THE LIGHT OF THE COMMONLY ACCEPTED UNDERSTANDING OF ITS MEANING. YOU HAVE PROBABLY HEARD OR READ THE INTERPRETATION THAT PLACES THE EMPHASIS ON THE FOUR TYPES OF SOIL MENTIONED IN THE PARABLE; AND A CURSORY READING OF JESUS’ REMARKS TO HIS DISCIPLES SEEMS TO VALIDATE THIS READING. THE COMMONLY ACCEPTED EVANGELICAL PROTESTANT INTERPRETATION IS THAT WE, FAITHFUL PEOPLE THAT WE ARE, NEED TO MAKE OURSELVES INTO THE RIGHT KIND OF SOIL THAT WILL BEAR THE OVERLY ABUNDANT YIELD OF WHAT IS SOWN. BY COMING TO JESUS, BY BEING BAPTIZED, BY BEING BORN AGAIN, BY TURNING OUR HEARTS OVER TO JESUS, BY LIVING A RIGHTEOUS LIFE, WE MAKE OURSELVES INTO THE KIND OF SOIL THAT IS PREPARED TO RECEIVE THE WORD AND BRING THE INCREASE. ALL OF WHICH IS WRONG.

BEFORE JESUS TOOK HIS WALK OUT FROM WHERE HE WAS STAYING IN CAPERNAUM DOWN TO SIT BY THE SHORE OF THE SEA, A LOT HAD HAPPENED. HE HAD CALLED HIS DISCIPLES TO HIM, HAD BEGUN HIS PREACHING MINISTRY IN GALILEE, HAD BEEN REJECTED BY HIS HOME TOWN, AND EVEN BY HIS FAMILY, AND THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES HAD DECIDED HE MUST BE STOPPED. AS HE STOOD ON THE SHORE, A LARGE CROWD GATHERED AROUND HIM BECAUSE HE WAS VERY POPULAR IN THE REGION AROUND THE SEA. WHEN HE GOT INTO THE BOAT AND SAT DOWN, HE SYMBOLICALLY SHIFTED FROM THE MAN OF THE PEOPLE TO THE AUTHORITATIVE TEACHER. HE SAT TO SPEAK, EX CATHEDRA, FROM THE SEAT, AND THUS HIS WORDS WERE TO BE CONSIDERED AS AN AUTHORITATIVE TEACHING. HE TAUGHT THE CROWD MANY THINGS IN PARABLES, AND THE FIRST WAS THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER.

THE FIRST THING TO NOTE IS THAT IN VERSE 18, JESUS CALLS IT THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER. IT IS ABOUT THE SOWER AND NOT ABOUT THE SOIL. A SOWER WENT OUT TO SOW, AND SOWED HIS SEEDS EVERYWHERE; ALONG THE PATH, ON THE ROCKS, IN AMONG THE THORNS, AND ON GOOD SOIL. EVERY PARABLE HAS A ‘HOOK’ IN IT; A SITUATION OR METAPHOR WHICH APPEARS TO BE A CONTRADICTION OF WHAT OUGHT TO BE. IN A SUBSISTENCE ECONOMY, ONE JUST DOES NOT WASTE PRECIOUS SEEDS. EVEN TODAY, WITH OUR MECHANIZED FARMING TECHNIQUES, WHERE PLOWING, PLANTING, AND HARVESTING ARE CONTROLLED BY COMPUTER AND GPS, EVERY ATTEMPT IS MADE TO ENSURE THE PRECIOUS SEEDS LAND ON GOOD SOIL. WHAT THE SOWER DID WAS SHOCKINGLY UNINTUITIVE, AND REMAINS SO TODAY. THE SOWER WAS PROFLIGATE IN HIS SOWING; AND IT TOOK NO GREAT LEAP OF THE IMAGINATION FOR THOSE WHO HEARD JESUS TO EQUATE THE SOWER WITH GOD.

THE SECOND THING TO NOTE IS THAT JESUS SPEAKS IN THE PAST TENSE; THE SEED HAS ALREADY BEEN SOWED ALONG THE WAY, ON THE ROCKY GROUND, AMONG THE THORNS, AND ON GOOD SOIL. WHAT HAS BEEN SOWED IS THE LOGOS, THE WORD OF GOD, AND IT CAME AS A SHOCK TO THOSE WHO HEARD JESUS THAT THE SEED OF THE WORD HAS BEEN SOWN IN ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE AND PLACES, AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN EVEN MORE OF A SHOCK IF THEY UNDERSTOOD THAT THE LOGOS HIMSELF WAS TELLING THEM THIS WITH ALL HIS AUTHORITY.

THE THIRD THING TO NOTE IS THAT SEEDS ARE NOT VERY IMPRESSIVE. THEY ARE SMALL THINGS, WHICH MUST BE BURIED IN THE GROUND, AND WHICH CHANGE AND WORK HIDDEN OUT OF SIGHT. THOSE HOPING FOR THE COMING OF THE MESSIAH IN GLORY AND TRIUMPH WOULD FIND THE IDEA OF THE WORD OF GOD AS A SEED TO BE NOT VERY INSPIRING. YET, THE FUNNY THING ABOUT THE SEEDS IN THE PARABLE IS THAT THEY ALL WORK. NO MATTER WHERE IT IS CAST, THE WORD OF GOD SPRINGS UP AND PRODUCES SOME KIND OF YIELD; EVEN IF IT APPEARS NOT TO LAST, EVEN IF IT GETS CHOKED BY THE CARES AND TRIALS OF THIS LIFE, EVEN IF IT GETS SNATCHED UP BY THE EVIL ONE. HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A TREE SITTING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE KANSAS PRAIRIE AND WONDERED HOW IT GOT THERE? A BIRD TRANSPORTED IT THERE. EVEN IF THE SEED OF THE WORD OF GOD GETS PLUCKED UP FROM WHERE IT WAS SOWN, IT WILL EVENTUALLY DO ITS WORK.

SO WHEN JESUS EXPLAINS THE PARABLE TO HIS DISCIPLES, HE IS DESCRIBING THE HUMAN CONDITION, BUT NOT NECESSARILY EQUATING ANY ONE TYPE OF SOIL TO ANY ONE TYPE OF PERSON. WE HAVE ALL HEARD THE WORD OF THE KINGDOM AND, AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, HAVE NOT UNDERSTOOD IT; SO IT WAS SNATCHED AWAY FROM US. WE HAVE ALL JOYFULLY RECEIVED THE WORD, BUT LET IT FADE FROM OUR ATTENTION, AND WE FELL AWAY FROM IT. WE HAVE ALL BEEN PRESSED BY THE THORNS OF LIFE, AND LET OUR CARES AND CONCERNS, OR THE LURE OF THINGS AND RICHES, CHOKE THE WORD WITHIN US. THE GREAT GOOD NEWS IS THAT GOD HAS, AND CONTINUES TO SOW THE WORD IN CHRIST UNTIL THE HOLY SPIRIT PREPARES OUR HEARTS AND SPIRITS TO ACCEPT THE WORD AND LET IT BLOSSOM IN OUR BEING.

THE PARABLE IS ABOUT WHAT GOD HAS DONE AND CONTINUES TO DO THROUGH HIS WORD; ESPECIALLY THROUGH THE WORD MADE FLESH, JESUS. IT IS CERTAINLY NOT ABOUT WHAT WE DO, WHAT WE HAVE DONE, OR ANYTHING WE CAN DO – IT IS ALL ABOUT GOD. IT IS ABOUT HOW, AS SAINT PAUL WROTE, THROUGH GOD’S WORD AND HOLY SPIRIT, “THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS HAS SET US FREE FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH.” BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH, GOD HIMSELF BY HIS WORD IN CHRIST JESUS HAS MADE US INTO THE SOIL IN WHICH THE SEED OF THE KINGDOM CAN GROW.

THE MYSTERY OF SEEDS IS THAT WE CAN NOT SEE THEM GROWING, ESPECIALLY NOT IN OUR SELVES. WE DID NOT PREPARE THE SOIL, NOR DID WE PLANT THE SEEDS OF THE KINGDOM. WE CAN ONLY LIVE OUT THE VALUES AND THE GOALS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD WHICH GOD HAS PLANTED WITHIN US. PUTTING CHRIST FIRST ABOVE ALL THINGS, WE THEN CAN LIVE THE LIVE OF LOVE AND SERVICE TO WHICH WE ARE CALLED. WHEN WE HEAR AND UNDERSTAND THE WORD OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS, EVEN WHILE WE CAN NOT SEE THE GROWTH OF THE KINGDOM WITHIN US, WE WILL BE SURPRISED AT THE FRUIT WHICH WILL COME FROM WHAT WE DO IN THE NAME OF JESUS. IN SOME THE YIELD MIGHT BE A HUNDREDFOLD, IN ANOTHER SIXTY, AND IN ANOTHER THIRTY; BUT, IN ALL WHO HEAR AND UNDERSTAND THE WORD OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS, GOD’S WORD WILL PRODUCE FRUIT.
“LET ANYONE WITH EARS LISTEN!”
AMEN

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