Jesus told stories to describe God’s work in the world and to encourage faith in his followers. In his stories, he drew details from common life and ordinary work like farming and fishing, baking and parenting. We can better understand these stories if we look at who Jesus told them to and what was happening when he told them.
The story in Matthew of the sower and the seed comes in the middle of Jesus’ active ministry. Jesus and his followers are traveling around, talking about the kingdom of God, healing people afflicted with disease and demons, forgiving people of their sins. The crowds that gather to hear him speak and receive his blessing, are getting bigger and bigger. Still, there are many who do not believe. Many people in the community are skeptical. Religious leaders especially had doubts that this Jesus of Nazareth was a true prophet.
The followers of Jesus wonder, “Why doesn’t everyone believe? Why can’t everyone see the power of God in Jesus?” As they struggle with these questions, Jesus tells them a story.
Seed is sown along the ground. In ancient Palestine, seed was sometimes sown before the ground was plowed. With this method, some seed was bound to be lost. Some of this seed fell along the path. Birds ate it. Some fell in rocky soil. Heat from the rocks caused early growth, but there was no place for roots to grow and the plants withered. Other seed fell among thorns and weeds that took all the light of the sun and all the nutrients from the soil. Finally, some seed fell in good soil and that seed brought forth grain. Much grain. More than could have been expected.
What does this story say about faith? Later in Matthew, the parable is explained. The gospel message is like seed Jesus and his followers sow. Some seed is ignored. Some people don’t bother to listen and eventually, something evil or tragic comes along to snatch the seed of faith away.
In some, the gospel bears fruit early. Some people hear about God’s love and immediately plunge into faith. But they fail to become rooted in a community of faith. When challenges come, their faith withers like seed planted in rocky soil.
In some people, faith takes root and still it dies because of the weeds in the world. Competing loyalties, demands on our time and energy take away from our faith. There isn’t enough room left to squeeze faith in.
Finally, some seed bears fruit. In good soil, the seed of the gospel message bears fruit in faithful lives.
This story is meant to encourage followers of Christ who wonder why everyone doesn’t believe. Not everything you do will turn out well. Even when you sow good seeds, sometimes they fall on bad soil. You may be doing the right thing, living a faithful life and still not be able to see what difference you make. Your job is not to see that every seed bears good fruit. Your job is to cultivate your own soil and to sow seeds, to do good works and to let God bring growth.
Cultivate your own soil. Focus on prayer, study of God’s word, and service. You may not notice a difference, but in time you will see that with your own soil cultivated, your life makes a difference in the lives of others.
Sow seeds of faith. Remember not all seeds will grow. But some of the seed you sow will fall on good soil. From that tiny little seed, almost too small to notice, a beautiful plant will grow. A plant that gives shade and produces fruit and more good seeds to sow. Cultivate your own soil and sow seeds of faith in others. Watch how God brings growth.