What more can be said about this parable of the Sower and the Seed? It is so familiar, because each synoptic Gospel tells the parable and then apparently has Jesus explain it. However, Jesus did not use parables so that a static interpretation could be developed. That would have defeated the purpose of using a parable. A parable is not exhaustive in meaning, but calls the listener to think, to reflect and to interpret its message in the light of life’s happenings. At the end of the telling of this parable, Matthew’s account has Jesus say, ‘Let the one who has ears, hear.’ The expression was common and indicated that what had been spoken held a deeper meaning.
When we think of planting seeds we know the importance of preparing the soil. There is plowing, harrowing, raking and fertilizing to provide the best possible conditions for growth. Seeds are specially prepared, some are genetically altered for the greatest yield. Farming wasn’t like that in Jesus’ time. It was common practice to scatter the seed and then plow it in to bury it. Even though the seed might be planted in good soil, that soil was rather rough.
It is important to remember as we find this parable in the Gospel of Matthew, that it is the first of a series of parables about the kingdom of God. The planting of God’s reign was a priority for Jesus. That is what is central to this parable. We notice that the kingdom of God is planted everywhere, on the path, on the sides, and in the field with the good, though rough soil. It is in the last mentioned place that the kingdom takes root, and, in spite of obstacles, it grows, producing a harvest of varying yields. This gives hope to the sowers of the harvest. It also reflects what we hear today in the prophet Isaiah concerning God’s word, “Just as the rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return until they have watered the earth so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void.” (Is. 55:10-11)
In our task as disciples to sow the word of the reign of God, we might ask where has it been choked and stifled and needing fresh seeds. There is need in the political systems of power and domination. There is need in the economic systems of capitalism and greed. There is need in the religious systems of legalism and righteousness. There is need in our own lives.
These are all rough grounds for growing the kingdom. But, it was rough ground that Jesus saw when he observed the sower planting, and he knew it had the possibility of growth. Those he sent out to plant the seed with him had come from the rough ground too.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP