COLUMN: The parable of the wasteful sower

Published 8:51 pm Monday, July 24, 2023

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There are some biblical texts that intimidate the preacher. At least we should be intimidated if we have the good sense to be. I once got to preach on Jesus’ parable where Rich Man Dives was ignoring poor Sick Man Lazarus in a pulpit in Atlanta’s wealthiest neighborhood.

The church where I was associate pastor often had a line of chauffeured cars awaiting their members to take them off to lunch after services. That story had my full attention as I crafted a responsible, yet faithful, sermon. One that didn’t take the lazy way out and pit all rich people as the automatic problem.

Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23 is another one of those, if you live in this area anyway. It’s intimidating to talk about the agricultural implications of Jesus’ parable of a sower who planted in four types of soil. That is, when you are slap in the middle of an agricultural region. 

Though I grew up on a farm, there are so many who know more than I about growing things. Yet, here we are. I must have been every bit of 7 or 8 years old when my mother decided it was time for us to learn the secrets of growing a vegetable garden.  

Everything was big. Especially to two little boys who had been instructed that we had to do this. I was much more interested in playing ball. But, I have to admit that the thrill of watching those bean plants emerge from the ground, eventually, was pretty powerful.

I can’t assume that my Mom’s way of planting would be the only way to successfully raise a bean crop So, you can imagine that I am no authority on the agricultural ways of the people in Jesus’ region 2,000 years ago. But, any of us can read this parable and be struck that it sounds wasteful.

Theodore Wardlaw in his commentary work asks the natural questions of this biblical text. “What do we make of a sower who throws seeds everywhere, even in such unlikely, seemingly unproductive places? What sort of worldview is suggested by someone who throws seeds on a well-worn path where birds can eat them, or on rocky ground where it is unlikely that they will grow, or among thorns that will choke them?”

Jesus was self-aware of what the reaction was to his ministry and to His message. So, it appears that he was reading the disciples in on what his present was, and what their future would be.

Douglas Hare observes that a first-century Galilean farmer would have considered a 10 bushel return on a bushel of seed to be a very good return. A 7.5-fold return might have been more normal. So, when Jesus speaks of returns that are a hundred, 60 or even thirtyfold, these are supernatural results that farmers might not have allowed themselves to dream even with so-called “good” soil. 

The Sower in Jesus’ parable is not wasteful at all, once we step into the spiritual realm of the teaching parable. Far from it, the Sower in Jesus’ parable is a generous, grace-filled God who has us at heart. A God who knows that each of us needs a fair chance at mercy and redemption. 

Our God knows that deep inside every one of us, there lies a worthy and possible outcome. But only if given the chance that the goodness of God’s power can provide. When we switch over to a different ledger, when we evaluate the story by a different criteria, God becomes the kindest and wisest farmer imaginable.

That is the best news a parable of Jesus could deliver. In God’s grace-filled economy, the Creator has done the cost/benefit analysis. God has considered that in us are all the types of soil– good, wasteful and everything else in-between. 

Still God has chosen to scatter-shoot all of the love and grace, the hope and possibilities. Because God has decided that we’re worth the risk. We’re worth the lavish, relentless and inexplicable effort that God puts into us.

Has anyone told you that lately? You, a child of God, are worth the love that God puts into humanity. We cannot out-give a God who plants with a heart like this. A God who doesn’t just put the seeds in the soil, but who nurtures the results and accompanies each of us to the fullest extent we’ll allow. 

That kind of God, that kind of wise presence, is in whose hands you can be on this and every day. 

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.