The Gospel today from the eighth chapter of the Gospel of St Luke is a story that many of us will know—the parable of the sower. Children, a parable is a story, made-up to tell us an important lesson. It is not a story that actually happened, but a story that is addressed to each of us, a story that can change our lives once we understand it.
The sower in this story—the person who is throwing out seeds is Jesus Christ. The seed is the Word of God—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This story is about how different people respond to the Word of God when the seed of believing in Jesus Christ—the see of faith in Christ—is planted in their lives. So this story is about each of us, about how we choose to respond to Jesus Christ. To understand the hidden meaning in this story, it is helpful to look at two other Biblical passages—one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament.
In the Old Testament in the Book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 55, verse 6, it is written: “Seek God, and when you find Him, call upon Him when He draws near to you.” We all seek the presence of God in our lives; and we can find Him. We can find Him with a calm awareness that He will guide our lives if we are open to His Word—by reading the Bible, by praying, and by coming to church services. In each of those three situations—reading the Bible, personal prayer and the prayer of the community—we are trying to listen to God, to hear how best to live our lives.
Isaiah continues with the words of the Lord: “As rain or snow comes down . . . until it has soaked the earth and brought forth and blossomed and given seed to the sower and bread for food, so shall My Word be [says the Lord] . . . until whatever I have willed is fulfilled, and I will prosper your ways and my commandments.” This is clearly the passage from the Old Testament that Jesus Christ has in mind in speaking this parable; and this is the passage that all the disciples will know. Notice that what the Lord is promising is that what He wills shall be fulfilled; and that He will prosper our ways, that is, that He will enable us to succeed in our hopes and goals, as long as our thoughts and actions are in keeping with His commandments.
So what are “our ways”? What is important to each of us in our lives? What are we going to do with these “seeds of faith,” these words of guidance that Jesus Christ gives to us today, just as He gave to His disciples many centuries ago? For me the key passage in the New Testament that helps me to understand this parable is from the Gospel of St Matthew, chapter 16, verse 15, when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Just like the disciples of the first century each of us today needs to decide who do we think Jesus is. Remember that Simon Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And we need to make that same reply in our hearts, in our prayers, in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions. It’s important not just to feel the presence and peace of Christ in our hearts, but to live out that presence and peace of Christ in our prayers, in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions. We need to know that Jesus is the Christ—the Messiah—the One who is blessed and anointed by the Father. Now with that knowledge that Jesus is the Christ we can then decide what “our ways” should be—how we should live our lives.
You see, Jesus Christ has thrown down the seeds of belief and faith in Him into our lives. We all believe in Jesus Christ in some way. The question before each of us, whatever our age, is: what are we going to do with those seeds of belief? The Gospel for today offers us four possible responses—four possible ways of dealing with these seeds of belief that Christ has already thrown into each of our lives. In the parable, Christ tells the great crowd of people that have gathered to hear Him that the seeds of the sower can (1) fall by the wayside or (2) fall on a rock or (3) fall among thorns or (4) fall on good ground, and yield a magnificent crop.
We can ask with the disciples: “What does that mean?” Jesus Christ tells us, and I quote from the Gospel of St Luke for today: “The seed is the Word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the Word . . . with joy, but these have no root; they believe for a while [but] in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked by the cares, riches and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the Word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit in patience.”
So each of us have a choice: (1) We can hear the Word of God and turn away to other concerns. (2) We can hear and believe the Word of God but fail to put down any root—any preparation to follow Christ through reading the Bible—both the Old Testament and the New Testament—personal prayer and community prayer. (3) We can start out OK, but then be caught by the thorns of personal cares, wealth and the pleasures of life. (4) We can hear the Word and “keep it and bear fruit in patience” throughout the rest of our lives on earth. We each make our own choices. Parents and friends can offer guidance, but we each make our own choices.
What I find exciting, and what I have learned in preparing this sermon, is that as we grow older, we can understand this parable better. The words that Jesus Christ said to the crowd apply to each of us—that if we have “ears to hear” then we shall hear. Whatever our initial choices, we can grow in understanding of how best to live as Christians. Those seeds that fell by the wayside or did not take root earlier, or fell among thorns and have presently been choked by the cares of life can be blown by the Holy Spirit to new places—to “good ground” where those seeds thrown out earlier in our lives do indeed “bear fruit in patience.” Those are the words, the guidance, of this Gospel—“bear fruit in patience.” With our cooperation, the Holy Spirit can blow these seeds of faith in Christ to new places. The Holy Spirit can enable us to grow these seeds of faith in “good ground” in each of our lives.
A fifth-century saint, St Cyril of Alexandria preached, and I quote: “He [that is, Jesus Christ] is truly the Sower of all that is good, and we are His farm. The whole harvest of spiritual fruits is by Him and from Him. He taught us this when he said, ‘Without me you can do nothing.’” St Cyril has cited the Gospel of St John, chapter 15, verse 5. The sixth-century Palestinian-born theologian, St Maximus the Confessor, offers a beautiful interpretation of that passage. I close with his words: “The Lord told us, ‘Outside of Me you can do nothing.’ This is because [of] our weakness, [that] when moved to do good things, [we are] unable to bring anything to completion without the giver of good things. The one [that is, Jesus Christ] who has come to understand the weakness of human nature has had experience of the divine power. And such a person who because of divine power has succeeded in some things and is eager to succeed in others never looks down on anyone. For He knows that in the same way that God has helped Him and freed Him from many passions and hardships, so can He help everyone when He wishes, especially those who are striving for His sake.” [end of quote] In other words, if we each seek Christ NOW, we will find Him, despite our human weaknesses; and we can share NOW in His divine power to achieve His and our purposes in our lives.