Parable of the Sower and the Seeds

So yesterday in our gathering we were looking at the relationship between being a disciple of Jesus and the parable that he told in Matthew 13:1-9 which is entitled The Parable of the Sower and the Seeds. Below is the text of my message and the discussion questions that followed the message. So this for the next several weeks we are going to be looking at discipleship or UP from the perspective of several different stories in the gospel of Matthew. Last week we looked at the story of the woman who was hemorrhaging for 12 years that Jesus healed. We talked about the boldness of the woman, who would have been considered unclean, to come into a crowd of people, which she shouldn’t have done according to Jewish law, and to reach out and touch Jesus hem. And then to experience the healing of not only her condition, but also healing in relation to her faith, and to her social standing and relationships. Jesus cared more about this woman, than just her physical ailment.

Today we are looking at a parable that Jesus told, and is probably the only one that he then actually unpacks for his disciples after telling it. The parable that we are looking at, of course, is the parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13:1-9. Here is the Scripture again (after hearing it two different ways through videos).

“That 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. Other 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.”

So what can we learn about being a disciple (the word disciple means learner or apprentice) of Jesus through these words of Jesus? I want to spend our time looking at two parts of this story, the sower/farmer and the seed, and see what we can learn about following Jesus from them.

First off, we see Jesus telling stories, or parables that were grounded in the everyday experiences of his hearers. Jesus was the master of contextualizing the message of the gospel to his hearers. Using stories straight from his hearers experiences. This story is no different. It wasn’t something he had to make up or invent. I am sure that Jesus, his disciples, and his hearers that day had seen a sower/farmer walking along their land throwing out the seeds into the soil. They would sow the seed by broadcasting it, and not getting down and planting row upon row like we would. They would throw it out and wherever it landed, it landed. Jesus knew that telling a story based on agriculture that it would connect with his hearers and so he tells the story of the sower/farmer and the seed.

Let’s take a look at the first part of the parable, the sower or farmer. The sower or farmer’s only responsibility in this parable is to make sure that the seed gets sown. He isn’t responsible for where it lands, if or how it grows, or that it grows. He was only responsible for sowing the seed liberally. I don’t know about you, but it does seem like he was wasting a lot of seeds by throwing them so liberally around. Don’t you think it would be better to investigate each type of soil, and then only spend time planting the seed in the soil in which it would grow? You know, take the seed out of the bag, dig a row or a few rows in the good soil, and then bury the seed in the good soil.

But the farmer doesn’t do that, he just casts the seed out from his bag and doesn’t worry about where they land. Part of being a disciple means also being like the farmer. We need to take the seed (which later in the chapter is referred to as the word of God, or the Kingdom of God) and scatter it liberally around our neighborhoods, our work, our school, our community, wherever we find ourselves. We need to be farmers for the Kingdom, spreading the Kingdom of God. When it comes to where we spread the seed, we can’t always determine who is the good soil, the rocky soil, the path, or the soil with thorns in it. We can’t go up to someone and determine which soil they are. Our only responsibility, just like the farmer in this parable, is to sow the Kingdom of God as liberally as we can.

I don’t know about you, but if a follower of Jesus looked at me in High School to try to determine which type of soil I was, and whether it was worth it to spend time sowing the Kingdom into my life, they might not have done it. In our flesh, we sometimes get it wrong about who is most receptive to the Kingdom. The good soil isn’t usually who we think it is. So I would say about the sower/farmer in relation to discipleship, that to be a disciple of Jesus also means to be an apostle (meaning a sent out one). I don’t believe you can be a disciple, just preparing your own soil to have the seed dropped into your life. To be a disciple also means spreading the Kingdom of God into the world to see it take root, grow and develop. In other words, words found in the parable, you have to be both the farmer/sower and also the soil, to which we turn to now.

In the parable we find that there are four kinds of soil that the seed (or the Word of God/Kingdom of God) can land in. The first is what is called the path, which is where people walked and nothing could grow because the ground was packed and hard from the foot traffic. The path is also where the seed (the Word/Kingdom) gets taken away by the evil one, before it can take root. The second soil is called the Rocky place, where there is soil but it is very shallow soil, and filled with rocks. So the seed grows but can put down deep roots. The Scripture says that when trials, struggles, and persecution come, the seed withers and dies because the lack and depth of the root system. The third type of soil is one in which the soil is full of thorns and weeds that end up choking out the seed and it’s roots. According to the interpretation later on in the chapter, this is the situation where the Kingdom enters into someone’s life but the concerns of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out the kingdom life. The last type of soil is the good soil, which when the seed falls on this type of soil, sinks into the ground, and grows exponentially. The Scripture says that there is a hundredfold, sixtyfold, or thirtyfold harvest. This soil is according to the interpretation is the one who receives the Kingdom and understands it.

This idea that the good soil is one who understands the Kingdom and then bears fruit 100, 60 or 30 fold is important. I believe we have to get at the meaning behind the word understand. All too often when we think about understanding we limit it to getting a concept cognitively. But in the era of Scripture, and really in our day, to truly understand something you actually put it into practice. The “soil” (the disciple of Jesus) who is truly good soil, is one that doesn’t just receive the Word of God/Kingdom and cognitively understands it, but is one who then takes the seed that was deposited in their life, and then begins to sow it into the lives of those who are around them. Starts living out the missional Kingdom life that Jesus calls each of us to. So not only do you then receive it, you also sow it, and then that is when the harvest truly begins, not only in your own life, but in the life of those around you.

Know often when I have heard this parable the question that inevitably gets asked is which type of soil are you and then we spend time talking about which type of soil we are, and how we go about becoming good soil. We talk about spiritual practices such as prayer, Scripture, meditation, generosity, etc.. all which are great and needed things. But I have come to understand that if we are truly honest with ourselves and each other, we vacillate between each type of soil. Some times in our lives we have times when we are hard to the things of God, and we want to go our own way. Sometimes in our lives we are shallow and the roots of the Gospel don’t seem to penetrate our hearts too deeply. We become religious looking on the outside but the inside is still hard to the things of the Kingdom. Or the Kingdom life gets squeezed out by the concerns of this world, and the riches of it. Or we maybe in a season where the ground of our life has been tilled, worked, and is really fertile and you are just growing and learning and applying the Kingdom of God to all parts of your life and in turn you are sharing the Kingdom in your spheres of influence.

So we are going to spend the rest of the time to unpack what it looks like on the ground, rub hits the road. What it looks like to sow the seed of the Kingdom of God in our world and where we currently are in relation to the condition of our soil to the Kingdom.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, pushback, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture text and the message?

2. Where or to whom do you think God is calling you to sow the seed of the Kingdom of God? How can this community support you as you sow the seed of the Kingdom?

3. What type of soil are you currently? What are some ways that we can cultivate good soil in our own lives and in the lives of each other as a community?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us as a community and what are we going to do about it?