Luke 8:4-15; 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9; Isaiah 55:10-13
In the Name of the Father and of + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Parable of the Sower is surely the best known and probably the most beloved of all our Lord’s parables. It appears in each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as the first of Jesus’ parables and in each Gospel it serves to introduce His parabolic teaching in general. In fact, the Parable of the Sower is so familiar that I imagine most of you could stand up here and tell the story in your own words and capture it reasonably well. However, our familiarity, combined with this parable’s unexpected sublimity, actually serves to keep us from understanding this parable which we think that we know so well.
The Parable of the Sower, once again, is a parable about the Kingdom of God, or, the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus explained this to His disciples when they asked Him what the parable meant, He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.” The word translated as secrets here is actually μυστήρια, mystery, for the Kingdom of God is in actuality a mystery, and even a parable necessarily falls short of capturing the fullness of the mystery of the Kingdom.
Perhaps the first mystery in the Parable of the Sower is the Sower Himself, who is He? I think that most Christians assume that the Sower is our Lord Jesus Christ. This seems to make sense to begin with, Jesus being the itinerant preacher of God’s Word, later empowering His disciples to do the same, and then even His Church. Even Christian artwork and iconography seems to imply that the Sower is none other than Jesus Himself. However, a closer hearing of the parable reveals that this cannot be the case. For, Jesus explains that the Seed that the Sower sows is the Word of God. And, we know from Genesis and from the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel, at the very least, that the Word of God is God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who became flesh and made His dwelling amongst men as the Man Jesus the Christ. And so, our Lord Jesus is not the Sower, but rather He is the Seed that is sown by His Father, the Sower.
It is God the Father who so recklessly and indiscriminately sows the Seed of His own Son in the field of this world of men. He sows it on the hardened path where it is trampled upon and becomes food for the birds of the air. He sows it on the rocky soil where it can gain no root. He sows it even amongst the sowings of the Enemy, where weeds, tares, and thorns grow up alongside and choke out the new growth. And, yes, He sows it upon good soil where it grows and yields mature fruit in abundance. And, here is another mystery: In the case of the seed sown upon the good soil alone is mature fruit said to be borne. Why then does the Sower bother to sow His Seed in the weed and thorn infested soil, in the rocky soil, and upon the hardened path at all? What kind of wasteful, inefficient Sower is this?
Remember, the Parable of the Sower is a parable about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore it is a parable about grace. God the Father’s grace is such that He gives it freely, unconditionally, no matter whom you are, what you have done or haven’t done, what you believe, or what kind of soil your heart’s condition is most like. The Sower sows; His reckless love scatters abroad the goodly seed, intent alone that all may have the wholesome loaves that all men need. Further, more important than good soil is good Seed. The best soil in the whole world won’t bear a single fruit if the seed is not good. Well, the Seed that the Sower sows is the Good Seed of His Word, even His Son. The Seed is Good, always; it is always life-giving, creative, and efficacious, let there be no doubt or confusion about that. That is why, even when the Seed is sown in the worst kinds of soil, under the worst conditions, it still sprouts and grows. Even when it is trampled upon on the hardened path and eaten by the birds of the air, the Good Seed gives life to the birds who very likely deposit it somewhere else that it might create life there. God is like that. The Kingdom of God is like that. Grace is like that. Love is like that – and that is why love is the fulfilling of the Law of God. In loving others as He has loved you, you are most like Him. Love always gives and never takes. Love always thinks of the welfare of others first. Love always puts the best construction on things. Love never harms a neighbor, but helps and befriends a neighbor in every need. The Sower knows that much of what He sows will not bear mature fruit, but He sows His Good Seed anyway, everywhere, saying, “Oh, what of that, and what of that?”
In the beginning, our God, Father, and Heavenly Sower sowed the Seed of His Word into the nothingness and it brought forth light and life and all creation. And, in the new beginning, He sowed His Word-Seed into the virgin-soil of Mary’s womb, and the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. Lastly, He sowed His Word and Seed made flesh, His Son, Jesus the Christ, into the soil of the earth in death that He might bring forth fruit a hundredfold – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Dear Christians, the fruit of Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension is not good works or some instruction on how to live the Christian life, but the fruit that He gives and causes to be borne is like Him – life and light. He is the true vine and you are His branches; by remaining in Him you will bear much fruit. That fruit cannot be anything other than what He the Vine enables you to produce, for an apple tree does not produce pears and a grape vine does not produce berries. The Christian faith and life is first about remaining in Jesus and second about bearing fruit. The point is, if you remain in Jesus, He has promised to remain in you [and note, He is going to do that anyway, even if you don’t remain in Him! You can’t undo in the Incarnation!], and He has promised that you WILL bear much fruit. How much? That doesn’t matter; that’s up to God! What kind of fruit? Again, that’s pre-determined; you’ll bear Christ-fruit: love, mercy, grace, peace, charity, kindness, humility, and the lot – you know, life and light fruit!
But, what about the different kinds of soils, the rocks and the weeds, the thorns, the hard-packed ground, and those devilish birds of the air? Well, these are realities in your life, to be sure, and they are the result of sin, but, remember what Jesus said in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, “An enemy has done this.” Sorrow, grief, and suffering, temptation, trial, and tribulation, these are a very real part of our lives as we grow and mature in fruitfulness in the field of this life and world; this is why we have in today’s Epistle Lesson the record of St. Paul’s tribulations. St. Paul prayed fervently and repeatedly that the LORD would remove the thorn in his flesh that afflicted him, even as we prayed together in the Collect a little while ago, “O God, the strength of all who put their trust in You, mercifully grant that by Your power we may be defended against all adversity.” God’s reply to St. Paul is His reply to you as well, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” For, there is no greater example of God’s power being made perfect in weakness than in the incarnation, suffering, and death of His Word-Son-Seed Jesus the Christ. In the seeming weakness of Jesus’ death, the power of death was destroyed and the gift of life was given to all the world.
And, just as a sown seed splits open and dies and then shoots forth in new life, sucking up nutrients from the soil, nutrients that are themselves the result of death and decay, and transforms them into food, fuel, and nourishment for growth and fruitfulness, so too all the evil in the universe, whether from the devil or from us, is now and ever shall be just part of the divine ecology. The Parable of the Sower says this. The seed eaten by birds is as much seed as the seed that produced a hundredfold. The snatching of the Word by the devil – and the rejection of it by the shallow and the choking of it by the worldly – all take place within the working of the kingdom, not prior to it or outside of it. It is the Word alone, and not the interference with it, that finally counts.
To you it has been given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And the mystery of the Kingdom is this: Boundless love; reckless grace; power in weakness; glory in humility and sacrifice. Each Christian is all the different kinds of soils at different moments in their life, sometimes even in the same day! But, your life does not depend upon what kind of soil you are, how good your works are, how strong your faith is, how much or how little you sin, but, your life depends on the Seed, your Savior Jesus the Christ. He is the life and light of this world, the life and light that darkness, sin, death, and devil cannot overcome. He has overcome all these tyrants so that they all serve Him and His purposes. Receive Him, believe Him, and remain in Him in patience – He will never leave you or forsake you – and you will bear the fruit that He desires and you will have all that you need for today, for as many tomorrows as there may be, and for all eternity.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.