In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus delivers one of his famous parables: the parable of the sower. The narrative of the parable is so simple that everyone can get it immediately. This could be why Jesus frequently used parables when he taught something complicated. It’s easy to hear, and it’s easy to circulate. But wait…is the parable really easy? I mean…is it really simple for us to understand what it actually means? Although the parable is easy to hear, we may find it hard to fully grasp. And it is true that the more we read the parable of Jesus, the more layers of meaning we encounter. So today, I just want to share my humble reading with you and hope that you may also grapple with the parable in your meditation, reach your own understanding, and share it with one another later.
In this parable of the sower, there come the sower, the seeds, and the four types of ground. First of all, let us think about the sower. To be honest with you, this sower seems very strange to me, because this person spreads seeds everywhere, on rocky ground, among thorns, and even on a path. Seriously? What kind of farmer wastes seeds like this? This sower may be really green.
I am not quite knowledgeable about planting or farming. But my grandparents were famers for their whole lives, so I happened to spend lots of time in their farmland when I was a kid. I saw them sow seeds too. They didn’t even scatter them directly on the ground. (2) They carefully placed seeds on the seedbeds in their greenhouse first. They just dropped one or two seeds in each hole of the seedbeds and grew them from there for a while. When my grandfather needed to spread his seeds right over the field, the first thing he did before sowing was to plow the field and remove all the rocks, weeds, and thorns. This way he could maximize the chance for the seeds to root and grow. They never wasted any single seed. I think this is nothing special. All farmers do the same.
So from my experience, I know the sower in the parable is not an ordinary sower. And what’s happening in the parable is not something that can likely happen on my grandparents’ field or in some usual farmlands. Some biblical commentators tried to make some excuse for the sower in the parable, saying that the agricultural technique of Jesus’ days was not much advanced, so farmers sowed like this sower in the parable. But the Bible tells us elsewhere that even in Moses’ days, people knew how to sow in a better way and how to plow the field with oxen (Deuteronomy 22:9-10). So here is my conclusion. If the sower sows like that—spreading seeds all over the places, this one does it intentionally for a special reason, and the sower definitely has seeds abundantly.
Then, who is this unusual sower who sows seeds on any ground regardless of its condition? Who is this rich sower who sows seeds like he has seeds abundantly? We all know who this sower is. The Gospel tells us that the seed sown by this sower is “the word of the kingdom,” which is the good news leading people into faith and new life. And there is only one who can sow this special seed. Yes, he is Jesus. Jesus sows the word of the kingdom on us. But he does it unconditionally. He spreads his seeds all over on us no matter who we are and no matter how our souls are. Even if my heart is like a stone-paved path where seeds can’t sink into it, the sower sows the precious seeds on me. Even if your heart is a rocky and shallow soil, the sower sows the precious seeds on you too. Even if our hearts are filled with thorn bushes chocking us, the sower still sows the precious seeds of new life on us everyday. How can we call this strange work of the sower? Yes, it is indeed the work of God’s grace. The sower sows the seeds on all kinds of soils because his grace is abundant and his love is unlimited.
Now let us think about the four types of ground—the path, the rocky ground, the ground covered with thorns, and the good soil.
Some people simply claim that those grounds represent four different kinds of people in the world. And God chooses one of them as the good soil so they can have good hearts to understand the word of the kingdom. This sounds quite uncomfortable. Can you imagine Jesus, our gracious sower, categorizes and discriminates people like that? I can’t. And I am sure that Jesus doesn’t mean this at all.
Rather, I believe that Jesus tells us about the four types of ground to teach us how hard it is to understand the word of the kingdom, just as it’s hard for the seeds to be sown in the good soil. For Jesus, if we can truly understand the word, we will bear fruits and yield manifold; we will receive the word in our hearts, and also, live out the word to build the actual kingdom of God among us. And if we can truly understand the word, we will also try so hard to make such place where people truly love God and love one another like oneself, where there is peace and joy regardless of circumstances, where there is true acceptance and forgiveness. This is the meaning of “understanding” according to Jesus—understanding the word not only with our heads and hearts, but also with our hands and feet. So on our way to reach such understanding, it looks unavoidable for us to struggle with the birds—the evil ones, the rocks—the troubles and suffering in life, and the thorns—“the cares of the world and the lure of wealth” (13:22).
But although there are many challenges out there, we know the sower will never stop sowing the good seeds on the grounds. Then, what is our work with the seeds? What does the gracious sower require of us? I believe all we need to do is to cultivate the ground. To understand the word of the kingdom and to actualize the kingdom life among us, all we need to do is deeply plow our rigid hearts, remove the rocks, and uproot the thorns. And when the seeds are sown, grow them with care. Check them everyday. Water them. And fertilize them. The cultivation of our hearts and souls… We, Methodists call it sanctification. For this sanctification, our tradition suggests us to use “the means of grace” Basically, this means of grace indicates the word and sacraments, but it also includes our prayer, bible study, fasting, Christian fellowship, and service of love. Why don’t we practice these practices of grace in our lives and keep nourishing our souls to bear fruits?
Sisters and brothers in Christ, how is your heart’s condition today? Paved with stones? Rocky? Thorny? Fertile? The sower is already spreading good seeds on me, and you, and each one of us. But are we ready to grow them and bear fruits? If not, let us take time to cultivate our soils. Let us try hard to understand God’s word and realize the kingdom of God among us here. And let us keep encouraging each other to yield the crops of love. There must be struggles on our ways of sanctification. But with a vision and hope for our joyful time of harvest someday, let us continue to be faithful in God’s abundant grace and move forward. Amen.