By Eric J. Brown
The Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:4-15 seems like a strange text. The idea of a sower going around and throwing seed all over the place seems utterly ridiculous. No farmer with two licks of farming sense would intentionally sow the highway. No farmer just wastes seed on untilled land or tosses it into the weed patch. Farmers prepare the soil. That’s just how it works. In fact, when this text came up at my church in Bible study, it was suggested that maybe the sower in the parable isn’t really casting the seed in all these places–maybe this is just accidental, like when the seed sometimes spills unintentionally.
What a waste!
This parable shocks us. The sower seems so utterly foolish and wasteful. We even try to find ways around it, but in the text it doesn’t work. The sower sows, and seed falls in four different places. It’s the same words, the same action–the seed just lands in those places. And try as we might to explain it away, there the sower is, just tossing out the seed and letting it fall all over the place. And we want the sower to be a better sower–to be more precise, to make sure that everything goes just to the right place, so that nothing gets “wasted”.
The disciples didn’t understand the parable either. They didn’t know what in the world this sower was up to, so they asked Jesus to explain the parable. “Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God.” Did you note what Jesus does here? He pulls our eyes off the sower. In fact, in the entire explanation of the parable, Jesus doesn’t mention the sower once. It’s not about the sower (this probably shouldn’t be called the Parable of the Sower but rather the Parable of the Seed) and the seed is the Word of God.
So often when the topic of evangelism comes up, we focus on our actions. We focus on how and what we do, and on what program we can develop. We’ll try to target specific focus groups–those “soils” that we ought to be getting. We don’t want to be wasteful, now, do we? The focus of evangelism must not be on the one who is “sowing” nor on trying to figure out the “good soil”. The focus of evangelism has to be the evangelion, which is Greek for the “good news.” That Good News is Christ and Him Crucified.
And Christ Jesus was crucified for everyone. I never have to look at someone and think, “Hmmm, did Jesus die and rise for this person? Does Jesus want this person to receive forgiveness and life?” The answer is a simple yes. And so, let the Word of God, let the Gospel, let Christ be proclaimed to them. The seed falls all over the place. . . and then what happens happens.
That’s the rub, isn’t it?
We aren’t in control. We don’t get to find the magic program or technique that will make our efforts at evangelism take off like a rocket. And that scares us. It’s not that we don’t want to waste the Word of God, it’s that we don’t want our efforts to be for nothing. Yet, that’s part of the point of the parable. Some people just won’t end up caring about Christ. Some will end up falling away. It happens. And we aren’t in control of that.
So, what is our response to those times when speaking the Word doesn’t seem to do much? In those times we can be tempted to start being scanty with the Word. We might as well not tell “that sort of person” of God’s Love–thoughts like that. But that misses the point. In the parable, the Word just keeps going out and out. Everywhere. To every type of soil. Over and over again.
It’s okay that we don’t know!
The simple fact is, we don’t know how God will use His Word upon a person. We don’t get to spiritually till and fertilize our neighbor first to figure out if he’s “good soil” or not. And that’s okay, because that’s not our job. The sower sows the seed all over; Christ and Him crucified is proclaimed to all–again and again and again. We know that faith comes not by our own reason or strength, but only through the Holy Spirit who calls by the Gospel. He works when and where He wills. And we leave that all up to Him.
In the same way, the Spirit does His work in us. We aren’t “good soil” because of us–we are made good in Christ! And so we give thanks that God’s Word of life is spoken to us again and again, even when our sin would make us seem a bit thorny or rocky or even flat-out stubborn and hard. And that Word takes root and it bears fruit. . .it bears seed that spreads out from us onto our neighbor. That’s just what happens: You’re going to bear fruit when you are in Christ. This is what He accomplishes and brings about in you. What happens then? It’s out of our hands, but it’s in God’s hands, which is a fine place to be. Don’t try to control the Word; don’t try to micromanage the seed. You have received the Gospel of Christ Jesus, and God will use you to proclaim it. That’s just how it works. And if you don’t see the “results” you would like, don’t worry. It’s not about you or the results. The parable still is this: The Seed is the Word of God, and that Word of God is Christ Jesus, who is God for you and who is your Savior. As we have ears, let us hear!
Rev. Eric J. Brown is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher, IL
This article was originally published in the spring 2017 issue of Higher Things Magazine.