That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The picture you see here is an abandoned monastery in Ireland. At one point there were many monks who lived and worshiped there. I am sure they imagined that one of them would see the end of the world from the top of that tower. Today it stands an empty shell.
Jesus proclaims the parable of the Sower today and Matthew recorded it for a persecuted people who felt like everything was collapsing around them. They were wondering if they had failed or if God had abandoned them. We might feel that way. I wonder if the last few monks who walked away from this monastery for the last time felt that way too.
Jesus tells us about a strange farmer who casts his precious seed everywhere. I know a lot of farmers; they are more careful than this guy. Jesus is not doling out farming advice. He is telling us something about the kingdom of God. The Word/Seed is good seed, but to our eyes it does not always seem to work. It can be choked out, plucked away, or wither without adequate root. In fact, it appears that three out of four times it does not work.
Jesus is telling us that the success of the kingdom is not really in our hands. We sow. That is our job as his witnesses in this time. We spread the Word. The success of that Word is in God’s hands. That takes a huge burden off our shoulders. We are not responsible for making this work. It also opens our eyes to see that God’s kingdom sometimes works in odd ways. From the monasteries of Ireland came many missionaries who were critically important for the preservation of biblical texts and the conversion of the pagan waves who had occupied the post-Roman Europe to their east. You may be a spiritual heir of these monks. Read the final part of the parable again. Sometimes the seed falls on fertile soil which produces thirty, sixty or hundred-fold. No farmer expects yields like that. But with God the impossible is possible. We always sow in hope.