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(Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4: 2-20, Luke 8:4-15)

The “Sower” is found in three of the four Gospels. It is the longest of Jesus’ parables recorded in the Bible, in part because its meaning is explained by Jesus Himself.

Jesus’ parables used everyday life pictures to convey deeper and more important spiritual truths. That Jesus chose a sower is not surprising. Prior to the agricultural and industrial revolutions, most people were farmers, and most people sowed their seeds by hand, scattering them over a roughly plowed field. Once sown, God causes growth over time that transforms the seed into a harvest. However, even the best soil will not produce anything without the seed.

The parable notes four places the seed would fall when scattered: a tamped down path; thin, rocky soil; weedy, thorn-infested soil; and good soil. The seed on the pathway did not penetrate the ground and was eaten by the birds. The seed on the rocky soil sprang up quickly, but without roots to sustain growth, the hot sun scorched the plant and it withered away. The seed that germinated in the thorny soil grew for a time, but eventually the weeds choked off the nutrients necessary for sustaining life before fruit could be produced. The seed that fell on good soil did produce a crop with varying degrees of bounty.

Jesus explained the parable in this way. The sower is the one scattering God’s Word, the seed is the Word of God, and the soils represent the different hearts on which the seed falls. The heart is not even penetrated by the Word falling on the path. The “wicked one” has easy pickings and plucks the seed away. The heart of rocky soil is one that receives the message readily with joy, but quickly stumbles when persecutions and troubles arise because of his faith. The seed fallen on the thorny heart grows for a time, but the temporal concerns and ungodly allurements of the world choke out growth, preventing fruits of faith. “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:23) Only by God’s grace does this soil produce anything good. The Holy Spirit working through the Word sustains the plant and produces a harvest. The size of the harvest, too, is credited to God.

Lessons For Us

What is God telling us from this parable that applies to our post-industrial age? First, that the means of grace, the Gospel in Word and sacraments, are essential to producing believers. The Great Commission commands us to “make disciples” of all people. Let us be about the business of sowing. We can also be assured that the “wicked one,” the prince of this world, is still eager to pluck the Word from hearts. At the same time, be on your guard not to harden your own heart against the Word. We also know from Scripture that those who follow Jesus will be persecuted in this life because of our faith in Him. Pray the Spirit to help us stand up in the days of trial that are sure to come. Every generation has its distractions and false promises, the “thorns” that attempt to choke off our faith. You mature Christians should model regular use of the means of grace and show that the priorities in your lives reflect the priorities of our Savior. Plant the seed and regularly nourish the seedling with that “one thing needful.” To this end, help us all, dear Jesus!

Almighty Father, bless the Word
Which thro' Thy grace we now have heard,
Oh, may the precious seed take root,
Spring up, and bear abundant fruit! (TLH 52:1)

Joe Lau is a professor at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.