Sower, Seed and Soil

"A sower went out to sow" (Matt 13:3).

The parable of the Sower is the first and most characteristic of Jesus's parables in Matthew. It a parable about telling parables, and it explains how faith grants access to an audience in stages, determined by the readiness of the hearer to hear and respond to the message.

As Jesus tells the story, some hear only a simple tale about the risks of farming. Others hear its invitation but do not let it take hold.  Others are impressed but easily distracted and do not pursue or apply the insight. Finally, some in the audience enter the drama of three successive failures to plant the harvest the community depended on, averted by some patches of good soil that yield the bounty that saves the day. 

Matthew, looking back on Jesus' preaching and the the apparent failure of his crucifixion, uses the parable to help explain the "messianic secret"  -- the fact that so many people did not grasp how God was at work in the paradox of Jesus' death and resurrection.  Isaiah had foretold this selective reception by some that was hidden from others. The crowds did not understand the meaning of the parables, but the disciples had it explained to them. They were the good soil that ended up yielding  the harvest God intended. 

Jesus' use of parables to convey such an important message can seem overly subtle, since so many don't get it, but his method also illustrates that our approach to God is possible only with full freedom. The goal is real intimacy, a face-to-face encounter akin to falling in love, or finding mutual friendship.  The mob will never get it. The crowd looking for miracles will fall away, the fans will need a quick fix to hold their attention. Only those listeners who let Jesus capture their hearts and imaginations will stay long enough to be grounded in the hope he offered. Only those with eyes that see and ears that hear and hearts that grasp the love being offered in the story will find their lives rooted in the Kingdom of God Jesus preached, then made possible by his death and resurrection, the seed that fell to the ground to be multiplied in glory.  

The art of preaching is to make God so accessible and so attractive that people will go past the preacher to the relationship they realize is being offered in the graced moment of hearing. Long after the sower is gone, the harvest will appear. The one sown will become the sower, and the sowing will begin all over again, an exponential, radiant source of joy and love needing only more good soil to be multiplied. Hear then the parable.