#40: Parable of the Sower

Mark 4:2–9,18–23

He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

It does not look it but it is another big battle story. Except here the energy is not so much naked evil as shallow complacency, spiritual indifference and the often triviality of busy lives.

Jesus had the amazing knack of wandering around thinking about what he saw and then pulling amazing illustrations or stories out of it all. His Galilean world was a place of villages and fields. That’s not the sort of pretty and prosperous countryside that we all love so much. His villages were filled with poverty; his fields were dry and stony. Farming then was part of a desperate struggle to survive. It is in this world that many of his parables were born.

Jesus wants to get across to the people that something new is happening, something is growing. It is the Kingdom. The growing is of God, but it is not simple and straightforward. There are reverses and failures, but the growing is happening. So he pulls out four, ‘see that field over there,’ type stories or parables.

  • The Parable of the Sower (Mk. 4:2)
  • The Parable of the Growing Seed (Mk 4:26)
  • The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mk 4:30)
  • The Parable of the Wheat and Weeds (Mt 13:24)

I had been six months in my new parish as vicar. Good things were happening, new people were coming to church, but we had 11,000 people living in our parish and I wanted to get the word out to them. We produced a simple but attractive leaflet introducing ourselves, saying something of God’s love and inviting people to come along. Every letterbox in the parish received a copy. I suspect that the vast majority of our leaflets hit the basket like snowflakes falling on warm pavements. Or, if you prefer, like seeds before hungry birds. I suspect that quite a few created a bit of interest, maybe even stirred a few good intentions. People however can be a bit spiritually shallow and anyway busy lives have a way of just crowding out the big issues.

So that is the story of the Sower and the Leaflets.

Not quite, first the lovely Joyce came along. She had been a Sunday school teacher many years earlier but had completely lost contact and the leaflet somehow found its way into her inner ‘deep soil’. Then Kate and Jane – young and bubbly and interested. Then Gavin, Kate’s husband and Matthew, Jane’s partner, who first said he would never come to church, started coming a bit and eventually got baptised.

These days we are more inclined to use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to scatter our seeds. I think there is a place for both social media and bits of paper. During the Coronavirus lockdown I saw one church with a big banner up simply saying ‘We are praying for you’.

We often think Jesus was brilliantly successful at everything and we are not. Here Jesus is saying, ‘most of my proclamations, acts of love, healings and feeding came to nothing. Some of my seed was just gobbled up by the birds of everyday living or fell on a shallow soil and couldn’t stand the heat. Some started well but were simply squeezed out by what people thought of as more important issues.
But some bore real fruit, new lives, changed lives, eternal lives.’

Lord Jesus,
Let the seed of Good News
Sink deep into my heart.

Let the seed of the Kingdom
Stir me to scatter seeds
To my friends and family

Lord Jesus,
Help me to grow,
Closer to you,
And stronger for you.