Friday, February 10, 2017

Parable: The Sower

Is there a Christian anywhere who has not heard this parable.  It seems to be one of the most popular. 

Since the time we discussed the Parable about things that don’t go together, Matthew’s account of Jesus records many healings, a sending of the disciples on a mission to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near, and a listing of the 12 disciples that followed him for about 3 years.

Simon—Jesus called him Peter—and Andrew.
James and John—the sons of Zebedee.
Phillip and Bartholomew.
Thomas and Matthew—the tax collector.
James and Thaddaeus.
Simon—not Peter but the Zealot and Judas—yes, the disciple who would betray Jesus.

Jesus had more direct and stern teaching.  If you acknowledge him before others, he will acknowledge you before his Father in heaven.  If you disown him, he will return the favor.

We also received some of the most comforting words in the New Testament. 

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.

For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

The encounters with the Pharisees became more intense.  Jesus healed on the Sabbath and told the Pharisees that was Lord of the Sabbath.  The Pharisee wanted their own sign.  They wanted Jesus to perform for them.

As we set the stage for this parable, we find Jesus venturing from a house, possibly even his own house as he was in the region of Galilee.  He went to a lake and finding that large crowds were gathering, he constructed his own amphitheater by getting into a boat and pushing off from the shore a little.  There he would sit and teach this large gathering that surely had common people and the Pharisees alike.

You need to read ahead just a bit to his explanation of the parable, but Jesus was talking about sharing the Kingdom of God and so the told the parable of the sower.

The sower sows the seed which is the word of God.  Who is this? Jesus and his commissioned fit the bill; otherwise known as the church.  Yes, we are these people.

The seeds falling on the road represent those who hear the word but dismiss it almost immediately.  Comparing synoptic gospels, we see that the wicked one (Matthew’s version) or Satan (Mark's wording) is what takes the word away.  That sorry ole…

The seeds falling on the rocks represent those who hear the word, but only accept in a shallow way, perhaps only intellectually.  These types of people reject the word as soon as it causes them affliction or persecution.

The seeds falling among the thorns represent those who hear the word, and take it to heart, but allow worldly concerns, such as health, money, relationships, jobs, and other cares of this world to choke it.  In the Proverbs 3:5 dichotomy, they rely on their own understanding.

The seeds falling on good soil represents those who hear the word, and truly receive it spiritually, causing it to bear fruit.  This is our memory verse for the month being lived to fruition.

Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.
1 John 3:18 HCSB

Good soil produces truth and action.  These folks respond as doers of the word.  They produce fruit for their Lord and for the Body of Christ.

Here is a question for your consideration.  Jesus told the parable and then he explained the parable to his disciples, so who would be crazy enough to try to preach a parable that Jesus already explained?

Have a great week.  See you same time and place next Sunday. Amen.  Right?

Maybe, not so fast on the wrap up.  Here is another question.  What are we supposed to do with this parable?

The beginning of the answer lies in verse 18. It says:  Listen to what the parable of the sower means.  Most of our Bibles give subtitles to different sections to include the parables, but here Jesus gives the parable a title.  He called it the Parable of the Sower.

What difference does that make?

Consider our human inclination.  We would probably title this the parable of the soils:  Road, rocks, thorny, and good.

Our own understanding would lead us to come up with standard procedures for evangelism with accompanying corollaries.   Such as:

·     Roads are for traffic not planting.  Save you seed for more fertile ground.
·     Rocky soil should be better prepared before planting.  If you are not up for the serious labor of cleaning up the rocks, then save your seed for other opportunities.  Leave the rock clearing to people with stronger backs and save your seed.
·     Weeds and thorns are only in it for themselves.  They don’t share well so don’t waste your seed there.  Really, are you going to carry a weed eater with you?  How many gallon jugs of Round Up do you want to haul around.  You’re an evangelist.  Leave the weed clearing to people who are out of work.
·     If you follow these basic tenants of seed sowing, you will have plenty of seed for the fertile ground.

If left to our own understanding, we would probably start classifying people we know as rocky or thorny

“Man, sharing the gospel with that yahoo was like dropping good seed on a newly paved interstate.”

If left to our own understanding, we might just skip sharing the gospel with a lot of people.  What’s the point?

Most of us would probably not make this parable about the seed.  That part is simple.  The seed is the word of God.  There is no bad seed.  The seed is good.

So let’s consider this parable from the perspective of the sower as this is how Jesus titles these analogies.  The sower scattered seed.  It went everywhere—on the road, in the rocky soil, among the weeds, and even in the best of ground. 

Why was there no rebuke from Jesus about where the sower scattered seed?  Should the sower not have planted more wisely?  Should Jesus not have titled this parable the Mostly Foolish Sower?  Really, seed was landing everywhere!

Consider what Jesus charged his disciples with at the beginning of Acts.  He told them that once the Spirit had come upon them, they would be witnesses of Jesus and his gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the world.  Think about that.  Put yourself in the shoes of these Hebrew followers of Jesus who were soon to take this good news and share it.

Jerusalem—of course.  God’s chosen people, you betcha!

Judea—yeah, ok, sure.

Samaria—Really?  Nobody likes those people.

The ends of the earth—the rest of the world is full of pagans, heathens, and people who don’t put gravy on their chicken fried steak.  You can’t be serious.

But Jesus was to be shared everywhere.  The gospel was to reach the ends of the earth.  God’s desire was and is for none to perish.  Of course, Jesus did not reprimand the sower in his own parable.  The sower did exactly what the sower was to do.  He scattered seed.

So, what is the point of the parable?  Win some. Lose some?  Some get rained out?

So baseball metaphors don’t work well with the parable.  What then?

This is the parable of the sower.  It is about the sower.  The sower scatters seed.  That’s what he does.  He or she does not carry the burden of the response around after the seed is scattered.  Jesus told us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Could we possibly bear the burden of not only sowing seeds but bearing the responsibility for the hearer’s response?  That’s a double-edge sword for sure.

Our human nature would be to claim the credit when the seed landed upon good soil and produced good fruit; likewise, we would accumulate guilt and blame and probably even remorse when the seed landed upon the road or in rocky soil or among the thorns.

We are the sowers.  We scatter seed.  Elsewhere in our instructions, we do find that we should do some watering and fertilizing when appropriate, but in the context of this parable; we are the sower and the sower was not judged for where his seed landed.

The sower did what sowers do.  They scatter seeds.

Jesus did not say to save your seed for good ground.  He did not say to be stingy with your seed so it doesn’t run out.  The parable is about the sower and the sower scatters seed.

We must resist our human nature to classify people based on this parable.  To do so leads us to some outcomes inconsistent with a God who loves us all and gives us all a chance to respond to his grace.

Jesus did not further explain the parable.  We are left to discern in the full biblical witness that we have received or just leave the tough parts alone and stick to what we know.  I will proffer a perspective at the former.

The soil is not a classification of people ranging from eternal reprobate to the elect.  It is the condition of the heart, perhaps the mind and soul as well.  Those conditions can change.

Not mentioned in the parable is the Holy Spirit.  The sower does his or her part and sometimes, the seed lands upon fertile ground and the response is immediate and we celebrate.

Often, the seed will not germinate in our presence, but we are not to be discouraged.   We must not be discouraged!  The parable tells us there will be a variety of responses.  It does not say that the sower is witness to them all.

The sower distributes his seed and it lands where it lands.

We also need to realize that among the people who heard this parable in its first telling where some Pharisees.  Despite what Jesus had already done, these religious leaders wanted Jesus to prove himself by doing something at their beckoning. 

Jesus told them, “Tough luck guys.  You get the sign as everyone else—the sign of Jonah.” 

He told his disciples that he used many parables because some of these yahoos would only take the true meaning of what he taught and try to put more burdens on the backs of men.  He told his disciples that they were blessed to have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Jesus told his disciples, who always seemed to be dumbfounded, that many prophets and righteous men would have loved to have gained their understanding.  Jesus used the words of Isaiah to tell his close followers that true understanding comes from the heart.

So many had calloused hearts and therefore they had become blind and deaf.  They could not understand the parables with hearts so hard.  Jesus spoke to those whose hearts were good soil and ready to receive the seed and produce fruit.

The disciples would come to understand what Jesus taught not because they were intellectuals, but because he was shaping their hearts.  What he did not finish, the Spirit would complete.

This is the same Spirit that can take a hardened heart and break it in an instant or over the course of years and decades.  This is the Spirit that we must trust as we witness to others.  When we share the gospel with others, we trust fully in the Lord and we do not rely on our own understanding.

We do our part.  God has not given us more than we can handle and we should not be claiming personal glory when people respond and become fruitful disciples.  We don’t drown in guilt when they do not respond.

We do our part.  We scatter seed, among many other things that we are called to do; but in the context of this single parable, we scatter seed.

The parable is titled The Sower.  It is not titled The Seed.  It is not titled A Study of the Various Types of Ground—Parable by Jesus and 10-year study by Oklahoma State University.  The parable is titled The Sower

We scatter seed wherever we go.  We take the gospel to the folks across the street and to the ends of the earth.  That’s what we do.

We don’t judge who might receive and who will be as hardened as a blacktop road in January.  We don’t walk away thinking that the seed we planted will be burned up or choked out before you know it.  What a waste of time and effort.  To do these things discounts the work of the Holy Spirit.

We scatter seed.  We pray for God’s Spirit to precede us and be with us and be with us as we share the good news and continue to work when we have departed.  We scatter seed.

Our desire must be as God’s desire, that it land on good soil and produce much fruit.  That is always our hope.  God desires that none should perish.  That is our motivation with every seed that we scatter.  Consider this part of the parable once more.

As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the Word and grasps and comprehends it; he indeed bears fruit and yields in one case a hundred times as much as was sown, in another sixty times as much, and in another thirty.

What are we to do?  Scatter seed with an easy yoke and a light burden.  We do our part.  We scatter seeds.

We share the gospel wherever we can.


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