A Reflection on Matthew 13:1-23
(for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 13, 2014)
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’
Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When 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. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet 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. As 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. But 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.’ (Matthew 13:1-21, NRSV).
There is something eye-opening about a parable. To tell a story invites engagement and coaxes the imagination into action.
Jesus’ word-images were not told to hide the truth. They were forged, rather, to set people on a path to finding truth. They were a call to search, to wonder, to ponder, and to engage. ‘Seek and you will find, ask and you will receive, knock and the door will be opened to you’ (Matthew 7:7).
If this is true, the parable of the sower is designed to jolt an un-perceiving and un-hearing people from blindness and deafness. As Isaiah foresaw, Jesus is here to heal.
Jesus is, however, far from naive. He knows that no matter how engaging he makes his stories there will always be some who do not respond. In fact, the parable of the sower insists that there are a number of possible ways that people may hear: some will not understand and leave the encounter confused; others will be enthusiastic, but lack endurance; still others refuse to count the cost of following, and; finally there are those who embrace the message with an understanding and joy that brings forth fruit.
And so, with this wide expectation, the heaven-sent sower scatters seed everywhere. It is surely generous to the point of being wasteful. A sensible and wise farmer would always prepare the soil. He would always ensure the precious seed saved from the last harvest would fall where it had the best chance. After all, sowing on unprepared paths, rocks, or thorns, is a waste of time, energy, and seed.
But Jesus does not share the gospel with a measured heart. He is generous to a fault, sending his seed where others would not. Jesus is the quintessential gracious farmer.
And how could he be otherwise? Jesus is, after all, the perfect reflection of the Father’s heart.
Our passage ends with the disciples gathered around their master listening to his explanation. The sower story has piqued their curiosity. They seek understanding and are are responding wisely to what they have heard. Jesus gives more because in asking they are proving ‘worthy of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven’.
May we adapt Jesus’ grace-filled ways and the inquiring minds of the disciples as our own.