Proper 10A – Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – Parable of the Sower
“A sower went out to sow” (Matthew 13:3).
Who is the sower? God? Yes. Jesus? Yes. Those are the usual answers and they certainly are not wrong. God is always sowing God’s life in ours. We are created in the image of God and according to God’s likeness (Genesis 1:26). The kingdom of God is within you St. Luke tells us (Luke 17:21). In today’s epistle St. Paul says, “The Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9, 11). In a few minutes we’ll hear Jesus’ words, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you,” and “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Our prayers are often a request or desire for the divine sower to spread some seed. Our thanksgivings are a recognition of God’s sowing in our lives. There are thousands of ways in which God in and through Jesus shares God’s self with us, sows God’s life in us. Yes, God and Jesus are sowers of seed.
But are the usual answers the only answers? There’s nothing wrong with the usual answers until they become the only answers or the default answers. I am not denying or minimizing God and Jesus as sowers in our lives and world. I simply want to expand and enlarge the possibilities, to give the holy words of scripture every chance to take root in our lives, to bloom in new ways, and to grow into something we never before imagined or thought possible.
So here’s what I am wondering. Might you and I be sowers of seed? When we hear or read this parable we are pretty quick to judge ourselves or others as one of the four types of ground: the beaten path, the rocky ground, thorny terrain, or good soil. But have you ever thought of yourself as the sower in today’s parable (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)?
Have you ever had someone show up at just the right time and say or do exactly what you needed and you knew it was not calculated, there was no end game for him or her? They were sowing seeds. They were simply being themselves. Whatever they did or said they could not do or say otherwise. They seeded your life because they were a sower. By the same token you’ve probably had the experience of someone saying to you, “You remember when you said or did …? How did you know? That is exactly what I needed.” And you have no recollection of that event. You didn’t plan it or intend it. You were just sowing the seeds of your life. It’s not so much what you did or said but who you were. You were a sower to that person.
All our lives we are sowing seeds, and often we don’t even know it. The sower sows because that’s who she or he is. His or her being and doing reflect each other. We sow because we are sowers. We are sowers because we sow. Sowing is simply our way of being and living, the way we engage the world and relate to others. It is the practice that shapes and forms who we are becoming. The seeds we sow reflect what is going on within us and who we are. We can only sow seeds that were first sown and cultivated within us. Sowing is an interior practice before it is ever an exterior action.
Jesus sows in us “the word of the kingdom.” That word is love, peace, hope, joy, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, beauty, wisdom, presence, encouragement, perseverance, courage, gentleness, wholeness, healing, reconciliation, integrity, authenticity. And the list goes on and on. Those are the seeds Jesus sows within us, seeds that we are to cultivate within ourselves and sow in our relationships and the world. They are the kind of things that once we experience them we cannot keep them to ourselves. They sprout and grow within us, and we seed the world.
If those seeds are about an interior quality so is the soil on which they fall. The four types of ground described in today’s parable are descriptive of our lives and the lives of others. No one is just one kind of ground. All four are aspects of ourselves, interior landscapes.
I’ve known times when it felt like my life was nothing more than getting from Point A to Point B and it took all I had to do that. There was no room, time, or energy for anything else. Nothing was growing or flowering. The seeds of opportunity were lost, ignored, unrecognized, or snatched away. Do you know what that’s like? Have you ever lived life on the path?
Sometimes life can feel pretty rocky. Fear, envy, anger, or hard heartedness pepper the soil of our lives. New life cannot take root. There’s no depth. We live at the surface. This is telling us something. Our land needs to be cleared. There is work to be done. What rocks fill the soil of your life?
Other times the thorns of guilt, shame, or regret choke out the possibilities of something new. Our life is constricted, strangled by the past. We are pricked by the barbs of our own inconsistencies and contradictions. What might need to be weeded from the garden of your life?
And then there are those times when our life is fertile, open, receptive, rich in nutrients, flowering, flourishing, and fruitful. The seeds within us yield “in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
We need to be careful that we do not make a conclusion or final judgment about the ground in which we sow, whether in our own lives or the lives of others. Jesus’ description of the four grounds is not intended to shame or condemn but to awaken us. It is diagnostic. All four types of ground need attention and care whether it be plowing to a new depth, clearing the land, weeding, watering, or fertilizing. I don’t know what the land of your life needs but I’ll bet you do. And the truth is all four describe parts of ourselves. The condition of the soil does not, however, stop the sower. He does not seed only the good soil. She does not withhold seed from the thorny or rocky ground. Even the walked upon path is seeded. And that makes no sense. At least not for those who want to calculate and quantify life. That’s not the way of the sower, however.
The sower sows with reckless and indiscriminate generosity. The sower sows here, there, and everywhere without regard to where the seed might land or the quality or type of ground on which it falls. The sower sows not because of who or what the ground is but because of who the sower is. Where and with whom do we sow? In what ways have we withheld seed because we deemed the ground unworthy? What would it take for us to be as generous as the sower in today’s gospel?
The sower does not worry about the harvest or how much it will yield. That he or she sows anywhere and everywhere tells us that. He or she simply sows. This isn’t the way of our culture. It’s not what most of us have been taught or come to believe. We want a return on our investment. We want to make good use of our time and effort. We strive for efficiency and success. We don’t want to waste resources or spend ourselves on a hopeless cause. We measure productivity, keep score, and seek to maximize profits. That’s not how the sower into today’s parable lives. Again, the sower sows not because of an expected harvest but because of who the sower is. How would your life be different if you stopped measuring and keeping score? What would change if you trusted the seeding of this present moment more than you worried about the future yield?
Finally, the sower is not concerned about whether there is or will be enough seed. Life, creation, the world, the universe – whatever we might call this existence – is a divine “seed market” (From Rumi’s “The Seed Market”). There is more than enough. And the deepest and most gracious response to there being enough is to sow with generosity.
What has God sown in your life? Are you tending and cultivating new growth? Where and what are you sowing? What does the land of your life need?
“Let anyone with ears listen,” Jesus says. What do you hear in all this? What in today’s gospel makes your life more meaningful, lets you live a more sacred life, frees you to be your better, truer, and more authentic sower-self?
“A sower went out to sow.”