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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

“Sower, Seed, and Soils”

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

“Listen then to what the parable of the Sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

In one episode of the old “Seinfeld” TV show, George is thinking about saying “I love you” to a woman he’s going out with. Jerry cautions him that that’s a big step – because if you say, “I love you” and don’t get an “I love you” in return, what then? “That’s a pretty big matzo ball hanging out there!”

If you know anything about that series, you know that it could be pretty funny, but you didn’t expect to get any profound religious insights from it. But in this case the exchange really does tell us something important: Words are real and words do things. If you say, “I love you” – or for that matter, “I hate you” – those words are “hanging out there” and can’t be called back. In the Book of Genesis, once Jacob had tricked his father Isaac out of the blessing meant for his brother, Isaac couldn’t call those words of blessing back, even after he realized his mistake.

And words that have been spoken aren’t just passively “out there.” They are active and change things. A relationship can’t stay the same after powerful words are spoken. Think of the effects that words like Martin Luther’s “Here I stand” statement to the Holy Roman Emperor!

Today’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ familiar parable of the Sower, the seed, and the soils, is about the power of words. Our attention is drawn to the details about the different places where the seed falls – the hard-packed soil of the path, the rocky ground, the thorns, and the good soil. You wonder why the Sower tosses seed in the unpromising spots? Well, that’s the way they did it in Palestine in Jesus’ time. The Sower walked along paths in his field, with a bag of seed hanging on his shoulder, broadcasting the seed to his right and his left. And plowing came after sowing.

So, the Sower goes ahead, sure that there will be a harvest – and there will finally be success. That’s an important thing that Jesus and Matthew want us to know. But first let’s look at what’s being sown onto the ground. The Sower is the one who proclaims “the message about the Kingdom.” It’s God’s Kingdom that’s proclaimed, so the seed is the Word of God. And if human words can be effective in doing what they say, think how much more real and active the Word of God will be!

That thought begins in the Old Testament, which begins with God speaking. God said, “Let there be light, let there be a world” – “and it was so.” A prophet like Ezekiel would often preface a statement by saying, “The Word of the Lord came to me,” and then he in turn would announce the Word so that it could do its work. In the 55th chapter of Isaiah, God says that just as the rain and snow come down from heaven to water the Earth so that it can bring forth food, so God’s Word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (vs. 11) It sounds sort of like Jesus’ parable, except in Isaiah it’s the rain and snow rather than the seed that represent the Word of God.

The Gospels never say, however, that the Word of God “came to” Jesus as it did to John the Baptist and other prophets. We’re told something even stronger than that in the Gospel of John. There Jesus is the Word of God, the communication of God’s own self in the flesh. He is the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies in order to bear much fruit. (John 12:24) Jesus who is crucified is risen. And because that has happened, the one who proclaimed the Kingdom has become the one who is proclaimed as King. He is the one in whom the hopes and promises of the prophets are fulfilled, and the Kingdom becomes a reality.

That is the Word that falls on the path and the rocky soil, among the thorns, and into good soil. It’s the Word coming into our ears, into our hearts and minds – the promise that for Christ’s sake we are forgiven and accepted by God as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

So, the Word of God comes first. It must be spoken or written before there can be any response. Jesus began His ministry by calling people to repent because the Kingdom of heaven had come near. That was not, as we might think, simply a piece of information or a prediction about what was soon to happen. Remember, God’s Word does what it says. The proclamation of the Kingdom is the beginning of the Kingdom.

And surprising growth can happen in unpromising places! Sometimes the slow growth of a seedling can split a large rock. God told Jeremiah that His Word was “like fire – and like a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces.” (Jeremiah 23:29) no soil, no matter how inhospitable, can offer certain resistance to the Word of God!

I suppose the first people we think of when we hear this parable are those who’ve never really heard the Gospel before. They’re the ones who are most obviously represented by the different types of soil. And since all Christians ought to be prepared to witness to the Gospel in appropriate situations, knowing the type of “soil” we’re dealing with will be very helpful!

But Jesus’ story of the Sower says something about the conditions of Christians as well as those who have never heard the Gospel. The life of faith is not just a matter of hearing the Gospel and believing it at one time in our lives and then coasting the rest of the way. We are sustained and our growth is made possible by regularly hearing and reading the Word of God. If that doesn’t happen, we begin to wither away spiritually. Through another prophet, Amos, God threatened the people of Israel, who were drifting away from Him, with a famine: “The days are coming, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11)

That threat of a symbolic famine means that we die without the Word! A primary reason we come to church is to hear the Word of God regularly, the Word that calls us to repentance and promises absolution, the Word of life in Jesus Christ. That is the seed that is sown, the Word that comes into your hearing.

So, what kind of soil are you? Will the Word just lie dormant in your memory for a little while and then be forgotten? Will it provoke some brief enthusiasm, only to be drowned out by other interests and concerns in your life? Or will it take root and grow and bring forth the fruit of service to God and your neighbor?

The Word is Gods, and it is God who gives it growth. But to those who believe, God gives the ability to prepare to hear the Word rightly. Be where the seed is sown – you’re not likely to hear it on the golf course or at the beach or in your bed on Sunday morning. Remove the rocks and thorns that keep the seed from growing and avoid the things that distract you from the Word. Take an active interest in God’s Word, participating in Bible studies, and reflect prayerfully on the Word of God so that it can develop deep roots and bear much fruit.

As the Apostle James urges us, “Humbly accept the Word planted in you – which can save you!” (James 1:21)


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