The Parable of the Sower, Mark 4:1-9 (NRSV)
Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 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!”
Jesus interprets the story for his disciples and followers…the seed is the word, the good news Jesus offers the world. The part about seed falling on the path refers to the ones who lose the word immediately. The rocky ground is about those who get the good news at first, but only in a shallow sense. When difficulties arise, the word dies within them. The thorns are the the burdens of the world; for some, they are too much, choking out the good seed. But some of the seeds find good soil – people who hear the word, take it into themselves, and live out of its goodness. Faith and grace are multiplied beyond all expectations. (Mark 4:10-20)
It’s a great interpretation, in general and for this particular time, place, and company. So far, sowing the word is what Jesus does; the disciples listen and receive. But not forever. Two chapters from this parable, Jesus will send his followers out into the world, changing who they are in the parable from fertile ground to sower.
I love this parable, but my fondness for it can blind me, keeping it boxed up in one tidy little understanding. I do my best to be fertile soil, to let what is given take root and grow through my thoughts and actions. It’s amazing what can grow. And it’s not just me. I’ve seen so much abundance in the lives of others. From little seeds great crops grow.
Here’s my question about this parable: am I meant to remain the soil? Jesus didn’t let his disciples stay soil. When they were ready, he sent them out to sow, scattering far and wide the good news, two by two. This world needs sowers just as surely as it needs soil. When the time comes, will I let go of fertile soil to become the sower of holy seeds?