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PROPER10 Sowers Of The Seed

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Proper 10

Pentecost 8

Ordinary Time 15

4. Sowers Of The Seed

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the

sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a

boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.

3And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A

sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the

path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on

rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang

up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun

rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they

withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns

grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and

brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

9Let anyone with ears listen!"

18"Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears

the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one

comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what

was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground,

this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it

with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a

while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the

word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown

among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares

of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields

nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the


one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit

and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in

another thirty."

This parable is titled "The Sower." That puts the emphasis

on the person who preaches or teaches the word. Yet the parable

does not do much in the way of describing the characteristics of

the sower. In this particular instance one would suppose that

Jesus implies that he is the sower. If we choose to emphasize

this aspect of the parable, then we might concentrate on the

question of how the contemporary sower corresponds to Jesus as

the one who proclaims the message.

We might also call this parable "The Seed." That would put

the emphasis on the message that is announced or communicated.

Again, the parable does not present any details about the seed.

No indication is given that the sower chose the seed carefully to

be sure it was the best seed. The parable does not say that the

sower sifted through the grain carefully to be sure it was pure,

that no weeds or thistle seed was mixed in with the grain. If we

want to emphasize that part of the parable, then we would examine

whether the word that is sown fully represents the message that

Jesus would have us communicate.

We might also call the parable "The Soils." Indeed, that is

what is described in the passage following the parable.

According to the text, when Jesus explained the meaning of the

story to his disciples, he talked about the different kinds of

soils as representing those who were receptive and responsive to

the word which he proclaimed.


Context of the Church Year

The parable and the next two that follow are from Matthew


Pentecost 8. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Ä "The Sower"


Pentecost 9. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Ä "Thistles Among The


Pentecost 10. Matthew 13:44-52 Ä "Treasure And Trash"

The parables are all concerned with the kingdom of heaven.

They present differing views of the same subject. They lend

themselves well to looking at the same complex topic from

different perspectives.

Context of Matthew 13

In Matthew 13 we have another of the major teaching sections

introduced by Matthew into the general scheme of Mark's

chronology. As noted above, the central theme of the parables is

the initial message Jesus proclaimed. "The kingdom of heaven is

nearby" [or "within you" or "in your midst" Ä all possible

meanings from the Greek.] The chapter shows both the positive

response of the disciples and the rejection of the people of

Nazareth (verses 53-58) and the Pharisees of the earlier


Context of the Lectionary

The First Lesson. (Genesis 25:19-34) The story is of the

birth of two sons to Isaac and Rebekah. They are twin brothers

but quite different in their characteristics. They become types

for the true descendants of Abraham and the rest of the people of

the world. Even though Esau was born first and, under the rule

of primogeniture, should have had the inheritance, he sold it to

Jacob for a mess of stew when he was famished after a hunt.

The Second Lesson. (Romans 8:1-11) Paul asserts that those

who live by the spirit and not by the flesh continue to be made

alive by the work of the Spirit within them. The passage

contrasts the spirit and the flesh in a somewhat similar way to

the first reading where Jacob and Esau are contrasted. The

passage also relates to the parable in that the fruitful life is

produced by the action of the Spirit.


Gospel. (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) The parable deals with the

response of hearers to the word. The latter verses are the

explanation of the parable.

Psalm. (Psalm 119:105-112) The Psalmist contrasts those

who live with God's word as a lamp to guide them with the wicked

who are trying to trap them. Nevertheless, the faithful seek to

live according to God's precepts and decrees forever. It is a

prayer to be instructed so as to remain faithful.

Putting it all Together

The lessons have some commonality in the theme of

productivity and faithfulness in response to God's action and the

dangers from the pressures of the people around them or the

temptations of the flesh.

Context of Related Scriptures

Hebrews 6:7-8 Ä Ground producing thorns and thistles.

2 Esdras 8:41 Ä Seed sown but not all fruitful.

Jeremiah 31:27 Ä God the sower.

Context of the Pericope

A parable generally has a single point. In some respects

the parable is more of an allegory, though the main point of the

parable is the consequence in the life of those who hear the

message of the kingdom of heaven. The danger of allegorizing the

scriptures is that persons may be led into all kinds of fanciful


In the case of the parable, the danger is avoided by

providing a controlling interpretation. The response of various

persons who hear Jesus' message corresponds to the different

kinds of soils on which the seed of the sower falls. Three soils

are not fruitful in producing results because of the conditions

of the soil.

The analogy of the various kinds of soil to different people


is not perfect, since the soil is passive and people are not.

The nature of the soils is given. Persons have some freedom to

respond. It depends on whether people act on the seed sown (the

word) or simply react to their natural state.

Thesis: 13:1-9 Ä Good soil brings a rich harvest of the


13:18-23 Ä Hearing also requires understanding.

Theme:13:1-9 Ä The word has a one in four chance of

succeeding in producing good fruit.

13:18-23 Ä Christians should be aware of obstacles

to belief and avoid them.

Key Words of the Parable

1. "That same day." (v. 1) The previous two chapters deal

with the attempt of the rising controversy Jesus had in response

to his ministry. Still he has a popularity among the common

people. Chapter 13 shifts from the controversy to Jesus'

preaching to the multitudes rather than to the arguments with his


2. "The sea." (v. 1) The ministry is relocated from his

hometown of Nazareth to the area around the north shore of the

Sea of Galilee, now called Lake Tiberias.

3. "Listen!" (v. 3) Other versions translate the term as

"Behold." It is an attention-getting device. Jesus, in a boat

with a multitude of people scattered along the shore, needed some

way to bring the crowd to focus. Experts on communications talk

about the need to provide a "hook" at the beginning of a message.

We need that admonition also.

4. "Sowing." (vv. 4-7) In Palestine the method of sowing

was different from what is known in industrialized countries

today. The persons planting seeds used the broadcast method.

They walked along a strip, scattering the seed from a bag slung

over the


shoulder and hanging at about waist level. As they finished the

strip, they went back and plowed it to mix the seed into the

soil. In some instances two persons worked together, one

scattering the seed and the other following with the plow. In

this way the soil on which the seed might be lodged was somewhat

haphazard and the seed might be cast on different kinds of soil.

5. "On the path." (v. 4) People and animals tend to follow

well-worn tracks. They choose either the most direct or easy way

to their goal. The earth then gets compacted as they traverse

the same path. The seeds would lie on the top of the ground and

be readily visible to birds who would eat them.

6. "Rocky ground." (v. 5) In Palestine the soil is often a

very thin layer over a sub-strata of rocks. Without the deep

plowing that is possible with modern metal plows, the sower would

not know that a particular spot had rocks close to the surface.

The roots would have no depth and little moisture, so the plant

would wither and die under the blazing sun.

7. "Thorns." (v. 7) The cultivation of the soil on

agricultural land in Palestine did not go deep enough to remove

the roots of thistles and thorns. Seed planted would not grow up

fast enough to get ahead of thistles and thorns which started

from roots and not seeds. Some of these plants grow to the

height of five or six feet and could strangle the grain.

8. "Some hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." (v. 8)

Such return would be an unusually rich harvest. The average

productivity in the United States is about thirtyfold, even with

advanced agriculture, including hybrid seeds, mechanical plowing

and planting, and the use of fertilizers.

9. "Ears." (v. 9) The important thing is not just hearing

the sound of words. The more important thing is to understand

and obey the meaning of the words. They need to be translated

into life and action.


10. "Kingdom." (v. 18) While the kingdom has a future

fulfillment, it is already present in the spiritual community.

It has God as the sovereign Lord and Christ as its head. It is

realized wherever the church is living in obedience to God as


11. "Trouble or persecution." (v. 21) Some raise the

question as to whether this phrase is anticipation of what is to

come or is a later addition by the church at the time Matthew or

Mark wrote their gospel accounts. In any event it is a warning

against the danger of falling away when opposition comes.



1. Our Responsibilities as Sower. If we sow the seed of the

word, we may have some concern about where it is deposited. The

main responsibility for creating the results lies with the Holy

Spirit at work in those who listen, but we must do the best in

our ability to make the word understood. Jesus used parables so

that people would remember the story even if they did not

immediately grasp its application. Later at an appropriate time

it might hit home with them.

2. The Harvest of Fruit. Our concern should not be how

great the harvest of fruit is, to get caught in the numbers game

as the only measure of successful activity. Rather it is that

there is some harvest, whether thirty, sixty, or one hundredfold.

Invidious comparisons among Christians or Christian groups should

not be made in terms of the amount of fruit (growth) produced.

It should rather be that we are faithful "sowers of the seed."

3. The Central Point of the Parable. The central point of

the parable should grant hope. The Holy Spirit will not leave

the word devoid of results. We should not be too disturbed about

the kind of soil in which we sow the word. Some of it will

produce results, not so much because of our doing, but because

the soil is receptive already.


4. Sowing the Seed Prolifically. The sower is not stingy in

sowing the seed. The sower continued to sow even where it did

not appear to be productive of fruit. The opportunity ought to

be offered to respond and be fruitful.

5. The Seed is the Word. A Christian is a person who is

born again. The word, both spoken and acted, is the seed that

activates the process that leads to a new birth. Those who teach

and preach are servants of the word. They plant the seed but it

takes time for it to germinate and develop until it produces the

fruit of the new life in Christ.

Homily Hints

1. A Variety of Soils. What are the various personality

types who respond to the word proclaimed?

A. The Overly Intellectual. Persons such as Nicodemus in

John 3 are too prosaic. They include the bigot who has a closed

mind, or the person who cannot see any truth to the spiritual

realm beyond the physical and material.

B. The Overly Emotional. Some people respond quickly and

easily to every appeal. They quickly flit from one interest to

another which moves them at the moment.

C. The Defective Will. These are led by their desires.

They are distracted by the pursuit of pleasures, fame, or wealth.

They have a low frustration level so that they cannot stand any

deferred reward. They make no persistent commitment to anything

beyond themselves.

D. The Receptive Mind. People who have a balance of head,

heart, and backbone consult all their powers. They make a

commitment to the reality which fulfills their total personality.

2. Cultivating the Soil. While the parable does not discuss

the way in which the soil can be prepared, cultivating the soil

can be helpful in allowing the seed to take root.


A. Watering the Soil. It has been said that you can lead a

horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Someone has

suggested that you can put salt in the water. People often know

only their wants and not their needs. Making them conscious of

the need may help.

B. Fertilizing the Soil. Adding examples of the productive

life may help persons to be enriched by following them and

enriching their lives.

C. Sunlight Needed. Light needs to be shed to overcome the

negative effects of the darkness in the world.

3. The Power of Preaching.

A. Depends on the Quality of the Seed.

B. Depends on the Nature of the Soil.

C. The Results are the Fruits of the Spirit.

4. The Perils of Prosperity.

A. The Illusion of Self-sufficiency.

B. The Attraction of Wealth.

C. The Necessity that Truth be Tested.

5. The Fruitful Life. How does the seed of the word affect

our behavior in various areas of life?

A. In Personal Life.

B. In Social Life.

C. In Spiritual Life.


Points of Contact

1. Barriers to Communication. Preaching and teaching are

about communication. For successful communication, both a sender

and receiver are required. Often "static" interferes between the

sender and receiver so that the message does not get through.

People may be preoccupied with some personal problem that

prevents them from listening. People who are hungry or on drugs

cannot hear


because of their internal state. The actions of the sender may

belie the message that is being sent. If no integrity exists

between the message being sent and the action of the sender, the

wrong message may get through to the receiver. Talking over the

heads of people is not a sign of erudition, but of poor aim with

the message. With an increasing aging population, more people

have problems hearing. Frequently among the older people, one

hears them say, "I could not understand a word he said!" Jesus

knew his audience and addressed them where they were.

2. The Need for Active Listening. It is part of the

responsibility of hearers to interact with the speaker. They

need to be aroused so that they do not listen passively, but ask

themselves: What does this mean for me, how does it apply to my

life situation, what changes do I need to make? A good listening

congregation can draw the best out of a preacher or teacher.

3. A Cross-cultural Sowing. The sower does not take full

responsibility for the kind of fruit resulting from the seed. In

times past, persons engaged in sowing the seed in cultures other

than their own often too easily identified the form of their

culture with the substance of the message. Increasingly it is

recognized that the seed must be sown so that persons know the

central message of the kingdom. The forms which it takes should

be allowed to emerge as the persons apply the message in their

own time and place, rather than in some preconceived essential

cultural form.

Points to Ponder

1. How much responsibility do we take for the soil? Do we

too easily assume that the only place and time for presenting the

message of the kingdom is in a church building at a traditional

time? Do we need to find ways to reach people at a time and

place more convenient to them? Jesus met the multitudes, not in

the synagogue or temple only, or on the sabbath only. He

preached from a boat on the seashore when the multitudes met him

there. He went out of the house and did not wait for the people

to come to him (see vv. 1-3).


2. The Holy Spirit's Action. When do we become too anxious

about the harvest that must come from our preaching? In some

Moslem cultures, more dead missionaries are buried than live

Christians are found. How long does one labor and sow in waiting

for the Holy Spirit to fructify our work?

Illustrative Materials

1. Strangeness of Seed Sprouting. Sometimes the word given

has surprising results. Once in speaking to two young men, a

person was trying to convince one of them to consider a college

and seminary preparation with possibility of entering the

ministry. He assumed that only one of the two showed such

promise. Interestingly enough, the person addressed enrolled at

college, but left after a very short time and never completed

college. The other, in part because of the conversation, came to

the college, went to seminary, and prepared for the ministry.

2. The Uncertainty of Return. Someone once pointed out the

low return for Jesus among his disciples. One betrayed him.

Only three seemed to be closely related to him during his

lifetime. Not many of the disciples were prominent in the early

church. So that his "batting average" with the disciples was not

high, but for those who responded, the results were amazing.

3. Sponges. If we change the image from soils and seeds, we

might suggest that some hearers are like sponges. They may

absorb the message given, but they have to be pressed to give up

to others what has been received.

4. Results Exceeding the Sower. Teachers often find that

their students go on to do greater and better things than the

teachers were ever able to accomplish personally. It is

gratifying to have students who are prodded or inspired to go on

to greater heights than might have been expected when they were


5. Planting Seeds Early in Life. In Russia attempts were


made for more than two generations to eliminate Christianity. It

was eliminated from the schools, attacked and discouraged. The

society was officially atheist. The babushkas (usually

grandmothers of children) took care of the children because both

parents worked. They shared with the grandchildren their faith.

Thus Christianity was not eliminated and since the collapse of

the Soviet Union is making a remarkable comeback. The churches

are full and a great demand exists for Bibles. It is probably no

accident that Gorbachev, who started the reform, was baptized as

a child. Seed was planted early and later bore fruit.


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