There was once a farmer who had discovered a wonderful seed. It grew
bountifully and adapted to the soil. It produced a wonderful harvest. But
the farmer knew he had a problem: his neighbours were not so lucky. For
some of them it was their own fault – they had not been as diligent as he
had. For others it was just bad luck – an illness had distracted them from
their fields, or they had fallen on hard times. But if they continued to grow
poor quality seed his own would be in jeopardy. The bees or the wind
would blow their seed into his fields and mix up with his. His only
solution was to share his seed with them: they would benefit from the
bounty and his own seed would be preserved. All the farms would flourish
because of his generosity; and someday, when he needed it, they might
also share their seed with him.
The farmer was just practicing good agricultural science: as gardeners will
know, seeds often cross, with mixed results. But of course, the story is
also a parable for neighborly behavior: when we share what we have with
others, we enjoy a fruitful bounty that often returns to us two-fold.
Our parable in the gospel this morning would have resonated with the
crowd before Jesus, who lived and ate the success of their farms. They
understood the cost of seed tossed carelessly, so it is eaten by the birds, or
falls on rocky soil, or is lost in thorny bushes. Without the time to grow
roots, without the ground that welcomes it, that seed fails. But seed grown
where the soil is good and substantial, thrives.
Jesus uses the parable as a lesson in faith. A shallow understanding of the
gospel cannot endure; the person who hears the gospel and receives it
joyfully, but does not take on the responsibility of it, cannot sustain their
faith. The ones who find a good place to grow, and tend carefully to that
growth, that seed will bear fruit.
Yet this gospel is not only a definition of strong discipleship. We are not
only the seed, but the sowers. Indeed, if we grow our faith well, we are the
farmer with the wondrous seed, enough to share with everyone, and called
to do so. “Go out to sow,” Jesus tells us. Try to share the fruits of our faith
in word and deed – the kindness, generosity, and hope of the gospel - with
those whom God puts in our path; to share the love of God so abundantly
given to us.
A seed doesn’t thrive on its own. Even in nature it needs bees and wind,
sun and rain. And so it is with our own sowing. We must be intentional
and deliberate with it. Some days, the sun will not shine; some days the
nourishing rain will fall too hard, or too lightly. Yet without those strong
roots, that seed will perish. To sow requires action. It involves reaching
out to people; it involves serving, and caring, and risking—all sorts of
things like that. However, if we try to do this - if we try to offer ourselves,
our time, our energy, our caring - to others, then before very long, we’re
going to wonder whether it’s worth it; we’re going to wonder whether
anything of value or meaning is going to come from all of our efforts. We
might neglect our sowing, our fields lying fallow. So sowing requires not
only faith and action, but endurance.
The first people who heard this story knew all about a sower going out to
sow. They saw it happen, they did it, year after year. They knew that seed
was usually sown by broadcasting it. Meaning, the farmer would walk
along and toss it out in every direction. The land was plowed later, after it
had been sown. This means that when you were tossing out the seeds, it
was virtually impossible to tell what sort of soil it was landing on. It all
looked pretty much the same from the point of view of the one who was
out there planting.
So, everything that Jesus said about problems—thin soil, rocks, fat birds,
thorns, weeds, whatever—this was old news to them. That was the way it
always worked. A lot of what they sowed was wasted. They knew that.
Now, if the important part of this parable were about the soils, and the
difficulties that come with planting anything, and the dangers involved,
and the seeds that would be wasted, then there was nothing new or
interesting in it—the people listening already knew all about that.
However, there is one thing that was really shocking to the first people
who heard this parable. That was the yield, the harvest. Seven or eight-
fold was hoped for. Ten-fold was phenomenal, and anything above that
was simply unheard of.
The poorest yield in the parable was beyond their experience—and the
greatest almost beyond comprehension. To promise this sort of result was
more than optimistic—it was to live in a whole different order of creation,
a completely different kind of vision.
To sow with this sort of hope and vision is to have the perspective of the
Reign of God. With this vision you don’t mind the rocks or the birds or the
thin soil or whatever else may get in the way. All of that stuff just doesn’t
matter. It is swallowed up in the promise of the whole enterprise. This
perspective, the promise of a vast harvest, is the heart of this little story.
After all, we already know that much of what we do is wasted. We know
that very well. We already know what it is like to try and try and try to
care and to make a difference and not get anywhere, or not be noticed, or
not succeed, or (perhaps worst of all) not even be appreciated. We know
what it is like to reach out a hand and pull back a bloody stump. We know
all about that. If the parable is only about that, then it doesn’t have
anything new or interesting to say to us, either.
Instead, remember that the point of the parable, and the point of what we
do, is that, by the grace of God, the harvest will be great beyond measure,
great beyond belief, great beyond imagining. What God will make of our
efforts is more than we can imagine. Much will be wasted, but that’s all
And the one who sows—that’s us—does not need to worry about that. The
one who sows is simply called to scatter the seed—to love and to
serve—and to trust. The rest will be taken care of. This is not because of
our abilities; it is because of the grace of God. The task that falls to us is to
plant the seed well, tend to it, and share it. To find community that has
good soil; to reinforce our faith with the diligent practice of the gospel; to
spread that among the space we inhabit in this world.
This perspective of hope and confidence is the gift of the parable. We are
to love and to serve in broadcast fashion—knowing full well that most of
what we do won’t amount to anything, that bad things are going to
happen—planes go down, bombs go off, children in Africa will not get
proper education, tyrants will sometimes win. A lot of what we sow is
wasted on fat birds and wicked weeds. But that is not ours to control; it is
not ours to fix; and our parable this morning would go so far as to say it is
not even ours to worry about.
Each one of us individually, and all of us together, have at our feet fields
to walk and seed to sow. We are called to do that. This parable is a gift to
lighten our step and extend our reach in those moments in life when we
feel we cannot even move. It gives us the wonderful gift of perspective. So
we can wave at the birds and smile at the weeds—they are not our
Our task is simple: to be the farmer who, having grown her own bounty,
shares it with her neighbors. The seed of the gospel will find a way.