The Parable of the Sower

Van Gogh's painting of the sower

We live in an exciting time to share God’s word. We have more avenues of communication open to us than in any previous point in history. Technology has all but erased geographic boundaries in our communications, and language barriers keep getting smaller. As Jesus said in Matthew 9:37 – 38, the harvest is indeed plentiful, but He needs us to be laborers. We should all be eager and wiling to be workers in the field of God’s word.

Harvest was important to Israel as they were largely an agricultural society. The Sabbath years were concerned with giving God’s land rest from harvests. God’s people observed a Feast of the Harvest, giving thanks to God for providing another season of sustenance, and there were even laws about being generous with your own harvest. God’s people lived and died by the harvest. Jesus comparing spreading God’s word to a harvest emphasizes the importance of teaching.

The Parable of the Sower

Jesus expands on this idea of harvest with a parable in Matthew 13:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Just a few verses later, after He and His disciples have a brief discussion about the purpose of parables, Jesus lays out what this one means. This makes it a bit of a parable primer in that we get the parable itself, we see a lesson about parables themselves, and then we get the walkthrough. This walkthrough begins in verse 18, and it breaks down like this:

  1. The seeds eaten by birds represents when the word gets rejected immediately. Jesus says the devil snatches the word from their hearts.
  2. The seeds on the rocky ground is the listener who hears and receives the word, but then the difficulties of the world pull them away.
  3. The seeds among the weeds are similar. Instead of challenges choking the word, it’s misplaced priorities and succumbing to temptation.
  4. Finally, we get to the good soil, and these individuals both receive and nurture the word. This person grows in God’s truth and then begins to share it with others, causing it to spread and multiply.

Applications for Us

There are two big things we can take out of this parable — how we receive the word and then how we share it. We are both soil and sower.

1. Receiving the Word

Where are you with God’s word? The very fact that you are here means chances are you’re not the trodden path. You’re here because you’ve received the word to some extent. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we may not always act like the best soil for God’ word either. So let’s talk about that.

Can you identify anything choking out God’s word in your daily life? You may not be feeling the effects right now, but think about your week. Has anything happened that has made you simply forget about God? Perhaps some rocky situations have caused you to stumble. Perhaps it’s some perceived threat to your faith; maybe it’s the shifting moral and cultural landscape; or it could be personal tragedy. When things get their hardest, what happens to God in your life? We have to be careful to not allow these things to harden our hearts and then choke out God’s guidance in our lives.

What about the weeds? It might be that some temptation is replacing God when you’re out in your daily life. I know it’s happened with me before. I can be full of praise and piety among my church family, and I can then succumb to temptation as fast as anything as soon as I’m all alone. In those moments, weeds choke out God.

This can also look like our priorities outside of the assembly. I’ve been really caught up in the priorities of this word before — particularly during election season, but you largely won’t hear from me on the topic anymore. It’s not that I don’t have opinions; it’s that I have different priorities now. It’s not that I don’t think elections can be important; it’s that I think other things are more important now. So, instead of allowing it to be a stumbling block to both me and you, I choose to spend my time looking at and talking about better things.

2. Teaching the Word

When we can clear the weeds and rocks from our souls, we can start to focus on what we’re supposed to do as healthy. We’re supposed to then be teachers of the word. We should become like the sower, working for a harvest that is more valuable than anything we can plant in the soil. How then should we teach?

  • The sower in this parable sowed indiscriminately. He didn’t look at a patch and then say, “Nope, that soil’s not good enough.” He sowed without prejudice.
  • The sower didn’t stop when things went poorly. He didn’t let the fact that some seeds failed to take stop him. He kept on working.
  • The sower focused on the task at hand. Both when things go well and when things go poorly, we should have a singular focus on outreach.

It’s Always Harvest

The thing about real harvest seasons is this: they only happen once a year. Miss planting your strawberries in time? You’re out of luck until next year. Corn? Same story. Kumquats? Out of luck. In contrast, God’s word is always in season. It’s always read for us to sow. However, we must still be mindful. As Jesus put it in John 9:4:

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.

God’s word is always ready to be sown while it is day, but we are still working against a clock. Night is coming. And when night comes and light no longer fills your eyes, your work will be done. When that happens, will you be able to stand before God as a good and faithful servant? It all comes down to two things: how you receive the word and what you do with it. I encourage you to be like the good soil in this parable. Receive the word and then begin to share it, so that the harvest for our Lord is indeed plentiful.

lesson by Robert Smelser