Parables challenge what we already know. When Jesus tells parables it causes us to rethink what it means to be part of God’s kingdom. The kingdom is never what we expect; there is always an element of surprise. The parable of the sower is no exception. This parable also appears in Mark 4:3–9 and Luke 8:5–8. In Matthew’s Gospel—following stories of opposition in chapters 11 and 12—Jesus shares the parable of the sower.
By the end of Matthew, chapter 13, Jesus is rejected in his own hometown. Matthew’s telling of this parable could explain why some people respond to the message of the gospel and others do not. Or, it might answer the question, “What are the right conditions to share the gospel message?”
The sower can be identified as teacher, preacher, Jesus, or God. In fact, the sower becomes anyone who shares the good news. Strangely, the sower does not prepare the soil before sowing seeds. The soil is not plowed or turned over. The sower does not know where rocks or hard clumps of dirt are located. Weeds and thorns grow wild. Soil preparation is not the focus of the sower; instead, he or she is simply called to indiscriminately sow the seed.
The seed in this parable refers to the gospel message. The yield becomes disciples who hear and allow the seed (word of God) to grow in their lives. Soil and the right conditions are required for the “seed” to grow. The parable describes four kinds of soil: hardened, shallow, thorny, and good. The soil differences are a reminder to the church there are ideal conditions suited for growing disciples. Ideal conditions allow disciples to gain proper nourishment, roots, and the ability to persevere through hardship. Matthew’s Gospel also describes the reality of the many obstacles disciples face including persecution, anxiety, and a wish for riches.
The end of the parable describes God’s miraculous yield, “some a hundredfold, some 60, some 30” (Matthew 13:8). A good harvest in ancient times could be as much as four to 10 times what was sown. Considering the lack of soil preparation and all the obstacles, it is surprising there was any yield at all! And that may be the whole point of the parable: God provides an extravagant, plentiful harvest beyond even our imagination. We can be caught up in a sense of failure or be discouraged by a sensed lack of response but this parable calls us to keep spreading the word no matter how rocky or thorny the circumstance.
Despite the difficulty and opposition we face as disciples today, God calls us to spread seed everywhere and then trust in God’s harvest. We don’t know why the word of God takes root in some people. The scriptures tell us faith is a gift from God. Our calling is to throw seed as widely and as generously as we can and trust in God’s miraculous yield.