PROPER10 Sowers Of The Seed
Ordinary Time 15
4. Sowers Of The Seed
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the
sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a
boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
3And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A
sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the
path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on
rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang
up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun
rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they
withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns
grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and
brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
9Let anyone with ears listen!"
18"Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When 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. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground,
this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it
with joy; 21yet 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. 22As 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. 23But 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
This parable is titled "The Sower." That puts the emphasis
on the person who preaches or teaches the word. Yet the parable
does not do much in the way of describing the characteristics of
the sower. In this particular instance one would suppose that
Jesus implies that he is the sower. If we choose to emphasize
this aspect of the parable, then we might concentrate on the
question of how the contemporary sower corresponds to Jesus as
the one who proclaims the message.
We might also call this parable "The Seed." That would put
the emphasis on the message that is announced or communicated.
Again, the parable does not present any details about the seed.
No indication is given that the sower chose the seed carefully to
be sure it was the best seed. The parable does not say that the
sower sifted through the grain carefully to be sure it was pure,
that no weeds or thistle seed was mixed in with the grain. If we
want to emphasize that part of the parable, then we would examine
whether the word that is sown fully represents the message that
Jesus would have us communicate.
We might also call the parable "The Soils." Indeed, that is
what is described in the passage following the parable.
According to the text, when Jesus explained the meaning of the
story to his disciples, he talked about the different kinds of
soils as representing those who were receptive and responsive to
the word which he proclaimed.
Context of the Church Year
The parable and the next two that follow are from Matthew
Pentecost 8. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Ä "The Sower"
Pentecost 9. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Ä "Thistles Among The
Pentecost 10. Matthew 13:44-52 Ä "Treasure And Trash"
The parables are all concerned with the kingdom of heaven.
They present differing views of the same subject. They lend
themselves well to looking at the same complex topic from
Context of Matthew 13
In Matthew 13 we have another of the major teaching sections
introduced by Matthew into the general scheme of Mark's
chronology. As noted above, the central theme of the parables is
the initial message Jesus proclaimed. "The kingdom of heaven is
nearby" [or "within you" or "in your midst" Ä all possible
meanings from the Greek.] The chapter shows both the positive
response of the disciples and the rejection of the people of
Nazareth (verses 53-58) and the Pharisees of the earlier
Context of the Lectionary
The First Lesson. (Genesis 25:19-34) The story is of the
birth of two sons to Isaac and Rebekah. They are twin brothers
but quite different in their characteristics. They become types
for the true descendants of Abraham and the rest of the people of
the world. Even though Esau was born first and, under the rule
of primogeniture, should have had the inheritance, he sold it to
Jacob for a mess of stew when he was famished after a hunt.
The Second Lesson. (Romans 8:1-11) Paul asserts that those
who live by the spirit and not by the flesh continue to be made
alive by the work of the Spirit within them. The passage
contrasts the spirit and the flesh in a somewhat similar way to
the first reading where Jacob and Esau are contrasted. The
passage also relates to the parable in that the fruitful life is
produced by the action of the Spirit.
Gospel. (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) The parable deals with the
response of hearers to the word. The latter verses are the
explanation of the parable.
Psalm. (Psalm 119:105-112) The Psalmist contrasts those
who live with God's word as a lamp to guide them with the wicked
who are trying to trap them. Nevertheless, the faithful seek to
live according to God's precepts and decrees forever. It is a
prayer to be instructed so as to remain faithful.
Putting it all Together
The lessons have some commonality in the theme of
productivity and faithfulness in response to God's action and the
dangers from the pressures of the people around them or the
temptations of the flesh.
Context of Related Scriptures
Hebrews 6:7-8 Ä Ground producing thorns and thistles.
2 Esdras 8:41 Ä Seed sown but not all fruitful.
Jeremiah 31:27 Ä God the sower.
Context of the Pericope
A parable generally has a single point. In some respects
the parable is more of an allegory, though the main point of the
parable is the consequence in the life of those who hear the
message of the kingdom of heaven. The danger of allegorizing the
scriptures is that persons may be led into all kinds of fanciful
In the case of the parable, the danger is avoided by
providing a controlling interpretation. The response of various
persons who hear Jesus' message corresponds to the different
kinds of soils on which the seed of the sower falls. Three soils
are not fruitful in producing results because of the conditions
of the soil.
The analogy of the various kinds of soil to different people
is not perfect, since the soil is passive and people are not.
The nature of the soils is given. Persons have some freedom to
respond. It depends on whether people act on the seed sown (the
word) or simply react to their natural state.
Thesis: 13:1-9 Ä Good soil brings a rich harvest of the
13:18-23 Ä Hearing also requires understanding.
Theme:13:1-9 Ä The word has a one in four chance of
succeeding in producing good fruit.
13:18-23 Ä Christians should be aware of obstacles
to belief and avoid them.
Key Words of the Parable
1. "That same day." (v. 1) The previous two chapters deal
with the attempt of the rising controversy Jesus had in response
to his ministry. Still he has a popularity among the common
people. Chapter 13 shifts from the controversy to Jesus'
preaching to the multitudes rather than to the arguments with his
2. "The sea." (v. 1) The ministry is relocated from his
hometown of Nazareth to the area around the north shore of the
Sea of Galilee, now called Lake Tiberias.
3. "Listen!" (v. 3) Other versions translate the term as
"Behold." It is an attention-getting device. Jesus, in a boat
with a multitude of people scattered along the shore, needed some
way to bring the crowd to focus. Experts on communications talk
about the need to provide a "hook" at the beginning of a message.
We need that admonition also.
4. "Sowing." (vv. 4-7) In Palestine the method of sowing
was different from what is known in industrialized countries
today. The persons planting seeds used the broadcast method.
They walked along a strip, scattering the seed from a bag slung
shoulder and hanging at about waist level. As they finished the
strip, they went back and plowed it to mix the seed into the
soil. In some instances two persons worked together, one
scattering the seed and the other following with the plow. In
this way the soil on which the seed might be lodged was somewhat
haphazard and the seed might be cast on different kinds of soil.
5. "On the path." (v. 4) People and animals tend to follow
well-worn tracks. They choose either the most direct or easy way
to their goal. The earth then gets compacted as they traverse
the same path. The seeds would lie on the top of the ground and
be readily visible to birds who would eat them.
6. "Rocky ground." (v. 5) In Palestine the soil is often a
very thin layer over a sub-strata of rocks. Without the deep
plowing that is possible with modern metal plows, the sower would
not know that a particular spot had rocks close to the surface.
The roots would have no depth and little moisture, so the plant
would wither and die under the blazing sun.
7. "Thorns." (v. 7) The cultivation of the soil on
agricultural land in Palestine did not go deep enough to remove
the roots of thistles and thorns. Seed planted would not grow up
fast enough to get ahead of thistles and thorns which started
from roots and not seeds. Some of these plants grow to the
height of five or six feet and could strangle the grain.
8. "Some hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." (v. 8)
Such return would be an unusually rich harvest. The average
productivity in the United States is about thirtyfold, even with
advanced agriculture, including hybrid seeds, mechanical plowing
and planting, and the use of fertilizers.
9. "Ears." (v. 9) The important thing is not just hearing
the sound of words. The more important thing is to understand
and obey the meaning of the words. They need to be translated
into life and action.
10. "Kingdom." (v. 18) While the kingdom has a future
fulfillment, it is already present in the spiritual community.
It has God as the sovereign Lord and Christ as its head. It is
realized wherever the church is living in obedience to God as
11. "Trouble or persecution." (v. 21) Some raise the
question as to whether this phrase is anticipation of what is to
come or is a later addition by the church at the time Matthew or
Mark wrote their gospel accounts. In any event it is a warning
against the danger of falling away when opposition comes.
1. Our Responsibilities as Sower. If we sow the seed of the
word, we may have some concern about where it is deposited. The
main responsibility for creating the results lies with the Holy
Spirit at work in those who listen, but we must do the best in
our ability to make the word understood. Jesus used parables so
that people would remember the story even if they did not
immediately grasp its application. Later at an appropriate time
it might hit home with them.
2. The Harvest of Fruit. Our concern should not be how
great the harvest of fruit is, to get caught in the numbers game
as the only measure of successful activity. Rather it is that
there is some harvest, whether thirty, sixty, or one hundredfold.
Invidious comparisons among Christians or Christian groups should
not be made in terms of the amount of fruit (growth) produced.
It should rather be that we are faithful "sowers of the seed."
3. The Central Point of the Parable. The central point of
the parable should grant hope. The Holy Spirit will not leave
the word devoid of results. We should not be too disturbed about
the kind of soil in which we sow the word. Some of it will
produce results, not so much because of our doing, but because
the soil is receptive already.
4. Sowing the Seed Prolifically. The sower is not stingy in
sowing the seed. The sower continued to sow even where it did
not appear to be productive of fruit. The opportunity ought to
be offered to respond and be fruitful.
5. The Seed is the Word. A Christian is a person who is
born again. The word, both spoken and acted, is the seed that
activates the process that leads to a new birth. Those who teach
and preach are servants of the word. They plant the seed but it
takes time for it to germinate and develop until it produces the
fruit of the new life in Christ.
1. A Variety of Soils. What are the various personality
types who respond to the word proclaimed?
A. The Overly Intellectual. Persons such as Nicodemus in
John 3 are too prosaic. They include the bigot who has a closed
mind, or the person who cannot see any truth to the spiritual
realm beyond the physical and material.
B. The Overly Emotional. Some people respond quickly and
easily to every appeal. They quickly flit from one interest to
another which moves them at the moment.
C. The Defective Will. These are led by their desires.
They are distracted by the pursuit of pleasures, fame, or wealth.
They have a low frustration level so that they cannot stand any
deferred reward. They make no persistent commitment to anything
D. The Receptive Mind. People who have a balance of head,
heart, and backbone consult all their powers. They make a
commitment to the reality which fulfills their total personality.
2. Cultivating the Soil. While the parable does not discuss
the way in which the soil can be prepared, cultivating the soil
can be helpful in allowing the seed to take root.
A. Watering the Soil. It has been said that you can lead a
horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Someone has
suggested that you can put salt in the water. People often know
only their wants and not their needs. Making them conscious of
the need may help.
B. Fertilizing the Soil. Adding examples of the productive
life may help persons to be enriched by following them and
enriching their lives.
C. Sunlight Needed. Light needs to be shed to overcome the
negative effects of the darkness in the world.
3. The Power of Preaching.
A. Depends on the Quality of the Seed.
B. Depends on the Nature of the Soil.
C. The Results are the Fruits of the Spirit.
4. The Perils of Prosperity.
A. The Illusion of Self-sufficiency.
B. The Attraction of Wealth.
C. The Necessity that Truth be Tested.
5. The Fruitful Life. How does the seed of the word affect
our behavior in various areas of life?
A. In Personal Life.
B. In Social Life.
C. In Spiritual Life.
Points of Contact
1. Barriers to Communication. Preaching and teaching are
about communication. For successful communication, both a sender
and receiver are required. Often "static" interferes between the
sender and receiver so that the message does not get through.
People may be preoccupied with some personal problem that
prevents them from listening. People who are hungry or on drugs
because of their internal state. The actions of the sender may
belie the message that is being sent. If no integrity exists
between the message being sent and the action of the sender, the
wrong message may get through to the receiver. Talking over the
heads of people is not a sign of erudition, but of poor aim with
the message. With an increasing aging population, more people
have problems hearing. Frequently among the older people, one
hears them say, "I could not understand a word he said!" Jesus
knew his audience and addressed them where they were.
2. The Need for Active Listening. It is part of the
responsibility of hearers to interact with the speaker. They
need to be aroused so that they do not listen passively, but ask
themselves: What does this mean for me, how does it apply to my
life situation, what changes do I need to make? A good listening
congregation can draw the best out of a preacher or teacher.
3. A Cross-cultural Sowing. The sower does not take full
responsibility for the kind of fruit resulting from the seed. In
times past, persons engaged in sowing the seed in cultures other
than their own often too easily identified the form of their
culture with the substance of the message. Increasingly it is
recognized that the seed must be sown so that persons know the
central message of the kingdom. The forms which it takes should
be allowed to emerge as the persons apply the message in their
own time and place, rather than in some preconceived essential
Points to Ponder
1. How much responsibility do we take for the soil? Do we
too easily assume that the only place and time for presenting the
message of the kingdom is in a church building at a traditional
time? Do we need to find ways to reach people at a time and
place more convenient to them? Jesus met the multitudes, not in
the synagogue or temple only, or on the sabbath only. He
preached from a boat on the seashore when the multitudes met him
there. He went out of the house and did not wait for the people
to come to him (see vv. 1-3).
2. The Holy Spirit's Action. When do we become too anxious
about the harvest that must come from our preaching? In some
Moslem cultures, more dead missionaries are buried than live
Christians are found. How long does one labor and sow in waiting
for the Holy Spirit to fructify our work?
1. Strangeness of Seed Sprouting. Sometimes the word given
has surprising results. Once in speaking to two young men, a
person was trying to convince one of them to consider a college
and seminary preparation with possibility of entering the
ministry. He assumed that only one of the two showed such
promise. Interestingly enough, the person addressed enrolled at
college, but left after a very short time and never completed
college. The other, in part because of the conversation, came to
the college, went to seminary, and prepared for the ministry.
2. The Uncertainty of Return. Someone once pointed out the
low return for Jesus among his disciples. One betrayed him.
Only three seemed to be closely related to him during his
lifetime. Not many of the disciples were prominent in the early
church. So that his "batting average" with the disciples was not
high, but for those who responded, the results were amazing.
3. Sponges. If we change the image from soils and seeds, we
might suggest that some hearers are like sponges. They may
absorb the message given, but they have to be pressed to give up
to others what has been received.
4. Results Exceeding the Sower. Teachers often find that
their students go on to do greater and better things than the
teachers were ever able to accomplish personally. It is
gratifying to have students who are prodded or inspired to go on
to greater heights than might have been expected when they were
5. Planting Seeds Early in Life. In Russia attempts were
made for more than two generations to eliminate Christianity. It
was eliminated from the schools, attacked and discouraged. The
society was officially atheist. The babushkas (usually
grandmothers of children) took care of the children because both
parents worked. They shared with the grandchildren their faith.
Thus Christianity was not eliminated and since the collapse of
the Soviet Union is making a remarkable comeback. The churches
are full and a great demand exists for Bibles. It is probably no
accident that Gorbachev, who started the reform, was baptized as
a child. Seed was planted early and later bore fruit.