The subject is of the readings we’ve heard – the sower. This is a well known parable. In fact, it’s one of the parables that appears in all three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. And of course it brings up the question, well, why did Jesus speak in parables? The disciples, in fact, asked this very question in the bit of Matthew that we had read out now and his reply was characteristically oblique. So we have to again, ask ourselves why? Why did Jesus speak in this manner that wasn’t immediately obvious to his listeners what he was trying to say? Even the disciples who were with him asked him, why do you speak like this? What’s the aim and Jesus’ reply is because the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven has been given to you and not to them. In other words, this has been the knowledge of the secrets of the heaven have been given to the disciples and not to all those other people. Now what does that mean? It’s because the disciples were the ones who were with Jesus. In other words, if we want to hear about the secrets of the Kingdom of God, we’ve got to be with Jesus. There’s really no other way.
He then goes on to say in explanation. To those who much is given an abundance can be expected and those who don’t have much even that will be taken away. Now I guess this makes you recall another parable that of the talents so called. Actually of the minas, minas being coins or gold bags. In Matthew 25 and Luke 19. This message is Jesus’ injunction to believers, not just to play it safe, to do little or nothing, but to serve God fully and expect to get results. In other words, if you seek spiritual gain, you’ll get more and more. But if you don’t, your spiritual poverty will lead to spiritual bankruptcy. It’s pretty hard hitting stuff. But I digress a bit. In the parable of the sower. Jesus actually says he speaks so that his disciples will hear and understand. In another part of Isaiah, Jesus quotes the Lord speaking to the prophet saying; “Be ever hearing, but never understanding, be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” He understood what was actually going to happen to the Israelite nation, that they heard the message, but they didn’t want to hear it. And ultimately they came a cropper.
Isaiah 55, a bit later in the passage we heard says, “my word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty.” In other words, we can be confident that when Jesus speaks, it has an impact.
The prophet was sent to the people of Israel, but their hearts were hardened and the end result was the destruction of their nation. And in the same way that the Jewish leaders had closed their minds to Jesus himself and the very religion that they wished to preserve was all but swept away. Now, so therefore, do we hear and understand. A parable is a story with a para. In other words, a meaning aside, a place aside. It’s something known from the Psalms from ages back. Psalm 78 verses one and two says: “My people hear my teaching. Listen to the words of my mouth, I will open my mouth with a parable. I will utter hidden things from all.” And Jesus of course was the King of parables – this was typically his genre. He used a well known situation that everyone could grasp and gave eternal meaning. In our passage he tells us the meaning. He interprets his own parable. There is no doubt of what he wanted to say. So we can ask well, is there really anything more to be said? Well, I think so. The seed falling on different types of ground, the path, the rocks, the thorns, these are the places obviously where the seed did not last, where it got eaten by birds, scorched by the sun or choked by weeds. The first is equivalent to where there’s no understanding. The second to where acceptance remains superficial and the third where they’re just too many worries and cares. I wonder, does this sound familiar to you? Let’s fix some landmarks. The farmer, who is actually not mentioned, is Jesus himself. The sower is his church. The seed is his message and the ground is the people of the world, or us. Well, surely we are not those who can’t really make out what the message means.
The message is of course none other than the Gospel itself. What is though this Gospel? And I think that’s why we say the creed every Sunday. That is the Gospel in a nutshell, that Jesus is the Messiah who demonstrated the nature of God because he was indeed God. He was condemned by a Roman governor, verifiable historically as having lived. Was crucified, died for our sins. Paid the price for our judgment, ensured our forgiveness and rose again proving him to be divine. This is what we say, and this, I hope, is what we believe. The message is full of untold mystery and depths. Though we may not ever fully understand its profundity, we aren’t really those who don’t understand any of the message. Nevertheless, I think we all have roving imaginations, a mind that wonders and memory that is perhaps dulled and attention that is distracted. Or perhaps we’re too ready to argue, too ready to speak our mind, which is already made up. Or even perhaps we’re just so sleepy, weary and tired, we don’t listen at all. So please don’t miss out. This message is of vital importance. We may be like those for whom, the message is swept away by evil, by other desires, by the devil himself. That would be the seed falling on the path. But more likely it is for us to be the rocky ground. In the dry land of Israel the sun came up and scorched the seed because it could not develop roots on the rocks. Jesus compares this situation to being in the heat of trouble or opposition or even persecution. Or for a younger person, this might be just not being cool enough. When we simply cannot stand up when things get tough. When we simply haven’t got the trust or the faith to hold on to, then the seed just doesn’t grow. But all we need is a little crack in the rock where the soil can gather some water. My wife comes from Zimbabwe and I worked there for 20 years. And if you go to Zimbabwe, you’ll see trees that seem to grow straight out of the rocks. It’s an amazing sight. These massive trees and you say where’s the soil and what they actually have are roots that disappear. And the length of the root is often longer than the tree itself. It’s an amazing sight. And it is, I think an illustration, that even a little earth can establish, a growth that can in fact split the hardest rock.
The third illustration that we may be are those for whom the priorities of the world simply take over. That’s a very 21st 22nd century thing. I’m sure. Where, work, social obligations, ambitions, recreations pursuits or financial worries just supervene. I’m sure that sounds familiar enough. Just too busy. Too busy for church, too busy to read the Bible, too busy to meet for fellowship, too busy even to pray. Then the gospel is literally choked out. It’s interesting of course that Jesus doesn’t mention the seed that is washed away. Presumably because Israel was such a dry climate and it didn’t really happen. Though that might be a synonym for our age when there are a million alternatives to his message.
So the meaning of the parable is explained by Jesus himself. We can listen but hear nothing. Now, every day practically, I drive on the motorway through the Glion tunnel. I’m sure you know it. And I like listening to classical music on the radio and so I tune into Espace 2 and an interesting thing happens. As you enter the tunnel, suddenly the music disappears and is replaced by all kinds of funny noises, crackles and the vague sounds of people talking all mixed together and you can’t make anything out at all. There’s total confusion and by the middle of the tunnel you can’t make anything out even the loudest noise. Then suddenly just a little before you exit the tunnel, when you see the light, the music comes back perfectly clear. Isn’t that an illustration of our life battered by noises and voices and messages and and all kinds of things. News that just drowns out the message of God. But when we see the light, when we look at Jesus, it all comes clear. Even if we’re tuned in right, and the vision ahead is not clear, our goal is obscured. And finally of course there is the good soil where the seed multiplies a hundred fold, sixty fold or thirty fold.
I think there are things to note too, about the sower. Some hidden gems in this story. The sower, that is us, the church, strews the seed deliberately. He wouldn’t waste seeds on useless terrain. He would know the value also of fertilizing and preparing the ground beforehand. He knows he’d need more seed than expected to cover and allow for inevitable wastage. And he’d know that the ground may be deceptive. It isn’t always obvious where the weeds and the thorns are.
But he wouldn’t stop till the whole field had been sewn. He would know that some seed produces an abundant crop, but not all grow at the same rate or the same strength, and he’d know that you might as well only have a one in four chance of success. This is challenging for anybody who speaks, but I think it’s also encouraging because we may feel disappointed dissuaded when we speak to somebody about Jesus. To sum up courage and we talk about what we believe about our faith. And the response may be “not interested” or maybe superficially interested and we think we’re getting nowhere, But let us just be true servants of the farmer himself, of Christ and get out there sowing the seed. Amen.