The Parable of the Sower

Reading Time: 3 mins

We can’t predict the harvest. We can only sow.

Martin Franzmann sings: 

The sower sows; his reckless love 

scatters abroad the goodly seed,

intent alone that all may have 

the wholesome loaves that people need. 

Though some be snatched and some be scorched 

and some be choked and matted flat, 

the sower sows; his heart cries out, 

“Oh, what of that, and what of that?” (Christian Worship 895). 

Modern technology revolutionized agriculture. We feed a population unparalleled in history. We take this for granted as supermarkets abound with food in season and out, even through winter. Ages boom or bust with food or its scarcity. Thankfully today we can plan, predict, and produce as never before, at least so far.

The ancient world didn’t have John Deere or advanced irrigation techniques. There were no agricultural science majors. Farming was straightforward and painfully unpredictable in places like Galilee. Sowers cast seed like salt on an icy sidewalk. This was called broadcasting. In such rocky areas, plowing was difficult. It was hard to tell fertile from unfertile land. This method was inexact and inefficient, but they had no better way. 

After Jesus told this parable, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” But Jesus’ disciples were confused. They wanted to make sure they had it right. Jesus explained the parable. His explanation is pretty straightforward. The seed is the word of God. It produces different results in different soil. Much of the seed is lost. It never grows or grows only to fizzle out or be choked. Nothing comes of it in the end. Not all is lost, though. 

Some seed grows and bears fruit with patience. This was why the sower sowed. Much of his work came to naught, but not all of it. This made it all worthwhile. It did no good to obsess over the harvest. The seeds didn’t grow better by worrying about them. It would be counter-productive to dig them up day after day to check. You sowed and you prayed. You waited and hoped. You trusted that something would be there come harvest.

Welcome to the life of a preacher, whether a pastor, parent, friend, or neighbor. Welcome to the task of the church. We sow our seed. We can’t know the fertile ground from the unfertile. We can’t predict the harvest. We can only sow. We cast word into the wind and say with Jesus, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Despite this, the church can develop a very unhealthy obsession with results, especially the American church. Business models abound. Marketing programs are in no short supply. We want to plan, predict, and produce. We want to measure. We want everything to grow, and grow quickly. But that’s not our calling. That’s not our task. We plant. We water. But the Lord grants the growth, and we give thanks when he does. 

What soil are you? We can obsess about that, too. Am I the rocky soil? Am I doomed for thorns? Or am I the good soil? We’re tempted to look inward for impeccable dispositions or outward for impressive works. That’s foolishness, though. Jesus says to listen. He says to hear. And here you are. And here is the good news for you. Put on your ears. All your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The preacher preaches. The hearer hears. The rest is the Lord’s problem. 

In Mark’s retelling of this parable, he includes a little more of what Jesus said at the end. He writes, And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” While we’re tempted to read this, or better, listen to it, and fret about being rocky or thorn-infested soil, what Jesus says here at the end would have caught his hearer’s attention. This would have been an amazing harvest. God’s Word does incredible things. That Word is your word, a word to you and for you. Hear it. 

Franzmann continued to sing with words we end our meditation well with here. As preachers and hearers, may we take them to heart: 

“Preach you the Word and plant it home 

and never faint; the Harvest Lord 

who gave the sower seed to sow 

will watch and tend his planted Word.” (Christian Worship 895). 

He will tend his planted Word. Amen.