The first is the Parable of the Sower. (Matthew 13:3-9; Luke 8:5-8; Mark 4:3-8). In this parable, Jesus says: “Once upon a time, there was a farmer who went out to scatter seeds on the ground so he could grow a crop.” In the course of that sowing, the seed fell on four types of ground: the road, rocky soil, weeds, and good soil. The parable also describes four outcomes based on where the seed landed.
Later, at the request of the disciples, Jesus interprets the meaning of the parable.
The seeds represent the Word of God. The seeds that fell on the road represent those who listen to the Word, but then the devil comes along and steals it from their hearts, so that they won’t believe and be saved. The seeds that fell on the rocky ground represent those who hear the Word and happily receive it, but they don’t have any roots, so they believe for a while and then they fall away when hard times inevitably arise. The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who have heard the Word, but financial worries and obsession with life’s pleasures end up choking it from them, so they never become fruitful. But the seeds that fell on the fertile soil represent those who are good and useful. They hear the Word and cling to it. They are productive and patiently endure hard times. (As Luke Tells It)
In Matthew, Jesus says that the seed is the preaching about the kingdom. This is Matthew’s Judaism at play, making him uncomfortable with using the name of the Lord, or even the word “God.” That is why in his Gospel the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Heaven. So in this case, “the kingdom” is his way of saying “The Word of God” without saying it. This is supported by Mark, which was written before Matthew, in which Jesus says “the Word” is what is sown. It is also supported by Luke, who says it is “the Word of God” that is sown.
Deciding that the seed is “the Word of God” is important because we have to ask ourselves: “What is the Word of God?” Every time I hear this parable preached in church or on TV or in conversation, the “Word of God” is always interpreted as some form of preaching. It is preaching about Jesus, or it is preaching the Bible, which is often said to be The Word of God. Sometimes it is preaching about sin or even about prosperity. But there is another “Word of God” that I have never heard preached in this parable. That Word of God is Jesus Christ.
What would it mean to “sow Jesus Christ”? Jesus Himself is the seed that we sow, but what does that mean? Is it more preaching? Is it just more of the same? Talking about sin and the Bible, but adding the “plan of salvation through Jesus Christ”?
Perhaps we sow Jesus Christ by enacting Jesus Christ – by doing what He did, by doing what he said to do, by following His teachings and making them a part of our lives. We do not sow Jesus into the world by talking about Jesus. We sow Jesus into the world by living Jesus. The man who sows seeds in the parable is not just talking about sowing. The man goes through the action of sowing. He does not preach about the harvest or the crop that could be; he goes out and does what needs to be done so that it will be.
The Church is the sower. The Church sows Jesus into the world by doing the things that Jesus said to do. The Church will enact Jesus to those whose hearts are hard and impenetrable. The Church will enact Jesus to those who are impetuous – those who seem to accept Jesus, but who quickly fall away because Jesus is, quite frankly, inconvenient. The Church enacts Jesus to those whose focus is on material things, who place more value on treasures on earth than they do on treasure in heaven. The Church will also enact Jesus to those who embrace Jesus and let Him take root in their hearts, growing into something unrecognizable and producing an abundant harvest.
And this is an important point: The seed is not the plant! The seed makes the plant possible, but the plant that results is nothing like the seed. The plant grows and when it is mature, it produces fruit, and it is in the fruit that we find new seed for the sowing. This is true for the individual as well as for the Church as a whole.
I AM NOT JESUS. BUT IF JESUS HAS TAKEN ROOT AND I HAVE REMOVED THE WEEDS AND THE ROCKS, THEN I WILL PRODUCE FRUIT. IT IS IN THE FRUIT I PRODUCE THAT JESUS CAN BE FOUND.
My believing does not show others who and what Jesus is. It is only in my doing – the fruit I produce – that Jesus is seen and known.
This is why “faith without works is dead.” This is why I cannot be focused on how much difference my faith makes in my life, but I must instead focus on how much difference my faith makes in the lives of others. If my faith is just about what it does for me, then it is producing no fruit. An apple tree that does not produce apples is either not an apple tree, or it is sick, or it is dead. It is by the fruit that the tree is known. It is by my deeds that my faith is known. If I do not do it, then I do not believe it, and my faith is just me trying to convince myself of something I probably do not really believe in the first place.
Also, just because I am producing fruit, it does not mean that I have to stop weeding. I have to feed the soil and keep working the ground. I have to examine the plant itself and prune away parts of it. Some branches are dead and they need to be cut off; some branches are stealing from a more productive branch and needs to be trimmed away. Adam was created to farm the Garden of Eden. Those of us who follow the Second Adam are to farm the Eden within us and the Eden within the Church, making sure we are on guard against the serpent who would enter into that garden and twist who we are, telling us that the fruit is for us alone.
The second parable that is rattling around in my head is not really a parable in the sense that it is not a story, but the statement is an analogy. Jesus said: “No one who takes hold of the plow but looks behind him is of any use to the way God rules.” (As Luke Tells It 9:62).
In the original context, it was referring to one who wants to be a disciple, but who also does not want to give up the life that one has. But it is also true for the Church as well. The Church cannot pine on days gone by. The Church cannot be stuck in the past, but must keep forging ahead into whatever future in which it finds itself. The battle cry of the dying church is “We’ve always done it this way” or “We’ve never done it that way before” is the church version of “I’ll follow you anywhere but let me bury my father first” or “Let me say goodbye to my family first.”
The field that the Church is plowing is the 21st Century. When we sow Jesus into the soil of the 21st Century, the resulting plant may bear little resemblance to the plant that sprung up in the 1st Century. But we are sowing seed we received from the fruit from the past. An apple tree in Maine produces different kinds of apples than one in Spokane, but they are both apples even though they are different. The Church produces different kinds of fruit in different places and different times, but in that fruit, the seed of Jesus can be found.