Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13, 1-23)
The Parable of the Sower is like so many of Jesus’s parables, a parable that speaks to the whole of life. The sower of seed is a metaphor for society, culture, life itself. Some seeds that are planted, some lives started, some projects begun, some thoughts thought, never take root, but are quickly extinguished, destroyed. Other lives, thoughts, actions, projects begin but are never fully embraced, never fully engaged in, accepted, or take root, and they quickly wither and die or are abandoned. Other lives, thoughts, actions, projects take root but their energy is quickly spent, the enthusiasm quickly diminished, often in the face of illness, adversity, threats, or temptations, and they die and fail as well. But some lives, thoughts, actions, projects are healthy, well thought out, pursued, and take root to flourish and succeed.
The above interpretation is common sense, and anyone who has experienced life can see that Jesus has told one of life’s truths; the face-value of this parable is easily comprehended. But Jesus has a deeper meaning the explanation of which he reserves just for his followers. He tells them the true meaning of the parable. The sower is Jesus who sows the word of God. Some people hear the word but it makes no impact and they remain in Satan’s hands, remain devoted to sin. Some hear the word and quickly seize upon it but it doesn’t last, sin quickly takes over, and they remain unredeemed. Others hear the word and embrace it, begin to live their lives by it, but some other attraction, temptation, concern, challenge distracts them from the word, and they return to the unredeemed life of sin as well. But some hear the word, are changed by it, life their lives by it, and they are fully redeemed, live a life of plenty in the knowledge of the word.
Interestingly, Jesus tells his disciples that this interpretation, the true way of understanding the parable, is reserved only for his close followers. Those who are ignorant of his teaching will remain ignorant. Those who embrace his teaching will be allowed full access to the meaning of the word. Doesn’t this contradict his teachings about how those who have not will have, those who are low will become high? Why wouldn’t he want all people to know the true meaning of his words? Why would he want to restrict his teaching to a small and exclusive club?
He believes that the word cannot be understood that quickly and easily, it is not something to be bandied about as a commodity, but something that must be treasured, and those who are meek and poor in spirit, the humble and those yearning for truth and peace, are the ones who deserve this teaching. Those who “already know” don’t deserve this teaching, which is reserved for those who do not know, that is, those who are not the exclusive purveyors of the law, the pharisees and scribes. The pharisees do not have the hearts and minds prepared for a different kind of teaching; they “already know,” and arrogantly assume they know the truth, which condemns them.
The rich soil, therefore, that can receive the seed of the word is the soil of a mind open to God, open to different possibilities, not preset, predetermined, already clear and knowing of the truth. The danger to the Christian is that he or she become a pharisee without even knowing it, coming to believe that “I know” and there can be no other truth. Only God knows. We must never lose the innocence of seeking to know, of having the humility or poverty of spirit to remain open to what God can teach us, no matter if we are 13, 23, 53, or 93.