The parable of the Sower, among the many parables of Jesus must have been an important one because all three, Matthew, Mark and Luke, have recorded them (cf. Matt 13:3-23; Mk 4:3-25; Lk 8:5-18). However, each gospel writer chooses quite differently where to place this parable.
The version that we have today is from the gospel of Matthew. He places this in the context where Jesus had been facing much opposition from the Pharisees: they complained about Jesus’ disciples picking corn on the Sabbath and then about Jesus healing the man with a withered hand, also on the Sabbath. All this infuriated them and they were out to discredit Jesus because He and His disciples did not keep the Mosaic laws. However, there was still a crowd that followed Him wherever He went. Therefore, they then decided to plot against Jesus and discussed how to destroy Him. But that did not deter Jesus from going about doing the will of His Father – teaching, healing, and forgiving sins.
It is this background that Matthew places the parable of the sower. Jesus was by the lake and a large crowd had gathered. It is not clear what was the motivation for them to come and seek out Jesus: were they there for healing from illness? Deliverance from evil spirits? Forgiveness of sins? Listen to His words? Or just curious because of His reputation? Jesus recognises that they were probably there for various reasons and saw this as an opportune time to teach them about His mission.
The scene in this parable is one that the audience that had gathered was accustomed to but it has deeper meaning. As Jesus later explains to His disciples, the sower in the parable is God and the seeds that are being sowed are the Word of God. The different patches of soil that the seeds fell on describe the different reactions and responses received by Jesus, the Sower. There were some who out rightly rejected Jesus and there were some who were there only for the miracles and didn’t last long. However, Jesus also encountered people who were thirsting to encounter God and these were the people where the seeds had fallen on good soil – they were renewed and transformed by the encounter with Jesus. In fact, this familiar parable will not need much explanation because it is one that Jesus interprets clearly for His disciples.
Perhaps we should then reflect beyond what is already obvious. The parable, assumes that the seed that fell on good soil will bear fruit. If you are a horticulturist or even a simple gardener, you would know that not only good soil is required for a plant to bear fruits, but what happens between the sowing and the reaping, there is a lot of hard work and care that goes in – watering, fertilising, pruning, and even protecting from harsh weather. It is only when these are done diligently will the seed grow to bear fruit.
The same can be said of faith. The seeds of faith have been sown in us in different ways – parents, spouse, family, friends, or even some personal experience. The fact that we are gathered here bears testimony that the seeds of faith are in us – the good soil. Nonetheless, the question that stands before us today is, what do we do to nurture the seeds of faith? Even though we may be people of faith, and like many other things, there is the possibility of complacency. We could put ourselves within a comfort zone and then faith can quickly turn into purely a set of rules, rituals and repetitive prayer to follow, with no bearing on daily life.
Apart from the Sunday Mass, what else do we do to help nurture the faith? Other than being a passive receiver at Mass, what else do I proactively do to help this faith grow? And presently, if I am already producing a crop thirty times over, should I not now be challenging myself to produce sixty and even a hundred-fold as the gospels tells us? The greatest obstacle to any form of growth, including faith, is mediocrity.
Today we need to further ask ourselves whether, in matters relating to faith, have we put ourselves into a comfort zone and have complacency and mediocrity taken over? This happens quite easily if we allow the pursuits of the world to take over. The next level of this parable is the clarion call to get ourselves out of this comfort zone of mediocrity and complacency – to awake from that slumber. This call could relate itself back to the parable of the sower – is it falling on bad soil or good soil? Only each one of us can answer this question truthfully before God. What is your answer going to be today?