The parable of the sower

Published July 11, 2020, 10:36 PM

by Manila Bulletin

MATTHEW 13:1-9 [or 13:1-23]

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Bearing much fruit

Our Gospel is well known, often called the “Parable of the Sower.” However, Jesus’ narrative could also validly be termed the “Parable of the Four Soils,” since it is aimed at the Hearers of the Word. How do they respond to the good seed being sown among them?

Background. To better understand this particular parable, one can draw insights from a brief discussion on parables. Jesus, the master-teacher, uses many graphic analogies to communicate his Kingdom message, making it concrete and intelligible for his hearers. Fully one-third of Jesus’ recorded teaching in the Gospels is found in his parables, numbering about fifty.

A parable has been described in a variety of ways. It is an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” A parable is “a narrative drawn from nature or human circumstances whose object is to teach a spiritual lesson.” Parables emerge from common life experience and are used “as a means of illustrating profound, divine truths.”

As narratives or stories, parables engage our imagination and are easily remembered; the characters emerge vividly; the symbolism is rich in meaning. Jesus uses common things familiar to his audience (e.g., sheep, salt, light, bread, weeds, birds, flowers, wheat, etc.). Thus, parables make the spiritual lesson or truth concrete and linked into daily life. Listeners are drawn into the story, hear Jesus’ unique “twist” or interpretation, and are challenged to discover for themselves the truth of the parable—and then to integrate it into their personal lives.

“Four Soils.” In Palestine of Jesus’ time, a common method of sowing seed is to use the “broadcast method.” The sower, carrying the seed on his back, simply walks the length of the prepared field, throwing out the seed by hand in all directions. Thus, it is perfectly understandable how the seed lands in various places.

The seed on the pathway is similar to the Word falling on hardened hearts; since it cannot germinate, it is a ready target for the birds (Satan) to steal and destroy. The seed on stony ground germinates, but the soil is shallow and it dies for lack of roots. The seed among the thorns starts its growth, but it is choked off by the competing cares of the world.

The seed on good ground, the fertile soil, grows and yields abundant fruit. Bear in mind that an especially good crop in Jesus’ time would produce a tenfold harvest; thus, anything more is an abundant increase, a bumper crop, whether it yields a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold. Indeed as the Responsorial Psalm notes: “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”

Jesus’ Challenge. At the end of the parable, Jesus emphatically says, “Whoever has ears ought to hear” (v 9). We are challenged to open our hearts and allow God’s powerful Word to penetrate. Do we have spiritually receptive hearts and minds? Do we genuinely hear God’s Word? God expects fruitfulness from us, a genuine harvest!

SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord 2020,” ST. PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 632-895-9701; Fax 632-895-7328; E-mail: [email protected]; Website: