St Matthew 13: 1 – 23 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. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears[a] 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.’
Reflection In the industrialised West, most folk live in an urban environment, so urban farms have been created to help children understand what rural life is like. Today, small farms have given way to large agricultural units worked by a few people with specialised machinery. Crops have been manipulated genetically to be resistant to disease, drought, and infestation. The world of farming expects maximum yields from treated seeds, intensively fed. The humble seed? Not so humble now! It is an industrial possession.
Back in first century Palestine, small scale agriculture and fishing were the mainstays of life. It was from the sowing of seed by hand, the fisherman’s catch, the tending of sheep – actions familiar to his listeners – that Jesus made word pictures to describe the kingdom of God come close. He imbued rural working life, often hard and unyielding, with eternal significance. How was his message received, then? And now, how potent are the word pictures he has left us given different agricultural practices?
Jesus used stories to teach anybody who would listen. They were surely not meant to stump folk. They were told to aid understanding, not make it difficult. Not everyone got their point. And, as is the way with stories (and indeed sermons) folk take what they want from them, which may or may not be what was originally intended. Stories can develop a life of their own. Perhaps it is in this light that we should understand Jesus speaking privately to his disciples about the Kingdom of God?
As for the power of the word picture of the soil, seed, and sower today; most of the world cannot afford mechanisation, family life is dependent on family land. We in the West need to look wider than our own expensive technologies and learn afresh about God.
Prayer Gracious God teach us afresh how to use our creative powers, and give us eyes to see and understand the nature of God’s Kingdom. ‘Take a lesson from the ground… the world is charged with the grandeur of God..;. nature is never spent…; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things…; because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings’ AMEN
(quotations from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem ‘God’s grandeur’.)
The Rev’d John A Young, retired minister National Synod of Scotland, member Giffnock URC.