When much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed…
Just as John the Baptist had prophesied, Jesus was busy threshing the wheat, separating the grain from the chaff, and calling the Children of Light out of the darkness. As I have said often over the last few weeks I want you to take this man seriously and resist the ever-present urge to break him, to tame him, to turn him into a good citizen, a well-meaning teacher of sweetness and light, living one day at a time and having this knack of bringing out the best in everyone. That is a false Jesus. He did not bring out the best in everyone and he is not going to be tamed. The Baptist was right: he is threshing the wheat, separating the grain from the chaff.
Before we get to the meaning of this well-known parable lets look, once again, at the context and setting in Chapter 8. Jesus had been baptized and though we have not spoken about it, he had been tempted of the devil in the wilderness. He had turned the water into wine; importantly, water aside for ritual ablutions. He had left Nazareth for good and taken up residence in Capernaum. He had gone on a healing spree and picked up a few followers along the way. Now he was, in a manner of speaking, touring the cities and villages of Galilee both healing and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him according to Luke 8:1. And according to Luke 8:2 there were some women who were part of this small entourage, women who had been healed of evil spirits and disease. Three women are named: Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward and Susanna. There were other women not named, but according to Luke 8:3 these women provided a significant amount of this little flock’s daily needs from their own personal wealth. It is interesting to me that Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, was among his followers. Remember in the parable about the laborers in the vineyard how the owner called his steward to pay the workers at the end of the day? This is the same word – epitropos. Joanna was the wife of the man who managed Herod’s estate. Jesus had a motley crew and some of them would stay with him right to the very end, while others would fall away.
Here’s an overview of Chapter 8: The setting for the parable is an occasion when a huge crowd gathered from the towns and villages all over Galilee. The parable is divided into two parts, first the parable and then the private explanation to his disciples. What happened after the parable is important: Jesus warned his disciples against hiding their light from people. Then his mother and family tried to get to him through the crowd but failed in the end. Next he and his disciples entered a boat that almost capsized till he calmed the stormy sea. Then they arrived in the land of the Gerasenes where he cast demons out of a man. The demons entered a herd of swine that then drown in the sea. The people of the Gerasenes sent a delegation to Jesus and asked him to leave and so he did. He then healed the woman who had an uncontrollable flow of blood for 12 years and the Chapter ends when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.
Yes, there were big crowds, but all along the way people were mocking him, some people were angry and some whole communities, like the Gennesaret community, was in a state of panic and did not want him around. But we also see people who took Jesus at his word and trusted him with their lives and the lives of those most dear. Here is a point I want to make: Had you been there it would not appear that Jesus was having much success in bringing on the Kingdom of God. Rather, his miracles and his preaching brought on a disproportionate amount of hostility. After healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath some Pharisees went out and made common cause with the Herodians to kill him. In John Chapter 6 after feeding a multitude of over 5,000 men and then teaching that he is the Bread of Life and that he is from Heaven, most of his disciples were so offended by him that they left and never came back. Only a handful remained. When he raised Lazarus from the dead some of the people who were right there and saw it with their own eyes, rather than falling down and worshipping him, went straight to the Pharisees to report the miracle and then the plot to kill him was hatched in real time. Even one of his choosen, Judas, became a traitor. The truth is his following was meager and it hardly appeared that the Kingdom of God was dawning.
A sower went out to sow his seed
This is what the parable is about. Jesus likened the success of the Kingdom of God to the plight of the average farmer in Galilee. In the face of all the obstacles in front of him –- seed falling to the hardened ground, seed devoured by the birds, shallow-rooted seed withering from heat and blowing away — in spite of so much loss, the patient husbandman will reap far more that he can imagine.
When Ann and I were first married we lived in the country and I decided that farming was a great thing and I could do it. We had a man plow up the field next to our house and I planted corn mostly. I had no idea what I was doing. The field was about a quarter of an acre, which is a pretty big piece of real estate if you are responsible for weeding and pruning. Two weeks after the sowing, three weeks, I was downhearted that not one sprout could be seen over that field of red clay. I decided that it was all dead and rotting underneath. One disappointing morning I decided to dig into the field and I discovered that some of the seed were splitting with little green tails pushing out. A few mornings later I looked out our bedroom window onto a field that had a soft, green blur over the red clay. Those little shoots had broken through to the surface of the field. At the end of my farming adventure, we ended up with more corn than we could possibly use. We ended up putting a sign on the road that read, “Free Corn.”
Modern man looks upon a plowed field and thinks of all that is going on underneath the warm, moist soil. Modern man thinks first of the biological development, of roots taking shape, of seed germinating and breaking through the crust of red dust. But when men and women in Bible days looked upon the very same plowed field, now sprouting tender shoots, they immediately looked up and saw a miracle from God. The corn is living, the earth is alive, and the heavens pour down life giving light and rain. It is kind of like a resurrection. For the corn to live and grow must die – Jesus said:
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
To the eyes of those around him, from a mere human estimation, most of Jesus’ labor, his sermons, his healing, and his love seem to yield very little fruit. But Jesus himself is full of joy and confidence: God’s hour is coming! What appears to be a hopeless situation turns out to be the glory of God. Out of this unpromising, discouraging state of affairs the field sprouts sweet waves of grain with a yield that surpasses all hope, all prayer, all expectation. This is the point of the parable. And it is the point Jesus is making to his little flock: No matter how hopeless it may appear, the Kingdom of God is in God’s hands and it growing, invisibly, secretly, and it will grow and grow and grow and fill up the whole world with the green sweetness of God’s own life.
A sower went out to sow his seed: and some fell by the wayside… and some feel upon a rock… and some fell among thorns… And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.