A Sower Went Out to Sow: Jesus in the Field of the World

On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:1-9, NKJV)

“Behold,” Jesus called out to the great crowds stretched on the shore in front of him — inviting them to picture with him a familiar scene, to see it unfolding before their eyes.

“Behold, a sower went out to sow.”

In the time of Jesus, a farmer would walk through his field with a sack full of seed, scattering it by hand as he went.

Familiar though the action was, that didn’t make it any less of a drama for those who were sensitive to its meaning. In a time when daily bread didn’t come by way of the grocery store and social safety nets were few, seed was life, or at least the promise of it — a promise that could be stolen by birds, drought, fire, or war.

In a particularly visceral way, to sow seed requires faith. It requires letting go of the little you have in order to bring forth more — but to do so without any control over the outcome. The sower must trust his seed to the earth, the sun, and the clouds. He must trust it to God, even knowing that some of it will be lost. Some of it will fail.

So the psalmist wrote, generations before Christ:

Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.
(Psalm 126:5-6, NKJV)

In Jesus’s story, the sower lost much of his seed to the perils of nature. But other seeds found good soil, rooted down deep, grew — and, at last, brought forth the harvest. In a way, what is a harvest but hope itself — the manifest effect of faith.

“He who has ears to hear,” Jesus finished, “let him hear!”

Christ the Sower

Although Jesus didn’t actually give his interpretation of this parable until after discussing the nature of parables themselves (a discussion we’ll cover in the next post), one thing should be immediately clear:

Jesus, standing there in that boat looking up at thousands of people on the shoreline, was the sower.

Interestingly, Jesus never identified himself as such. He just stood there in the scene, rocking gently on the water, and embodied the parable.

In a profound way, this is what Jesus came to do: to release seed into the world. He released his own life into the fields of this scarred and vulnerable earth, knowing that not every seed would reach its full potential. Knowing that much of it would be stolen, choked out, rejected, or abused. He trusted the seed to the Father, to the sun, the rain, and the clouds. He hoped. And he waited for a harvest.

For someone who was God, Jesus embodied a surprising vulnerability in his ministry. What he did was risky. It entailed a great deal of letting go. In letting go, it involved trusting others — trusting the Father, trusting the Spirit, trusting us.

Heaven’s Precious Seed

What exactly it was that Jesus sowed, he did not explain until later in the discussion — but again, he was embodying it before the eyes of the crowd, so if we look closely, we can see it too. Jesus sowed words.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the words of Christ carry life within them. After all, the word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). In the beginning, it was the word of God — “let there be life” — that brought forth life as we know it.

Moreover, that words are seeds is a truth common to our experience. It’s not just God’s words that grow things; our words do it too. Look at your life, think about what’s growing there — and how many of those things began as a word spoken to you, or a word spoken by you.

Words are seeds. They grow. How much more when those words come from heaven itself.

More specifically, in verse 19 Jesus said that the seed in the parable is “the word of the kingdom.” It is a specific message: the proclamation of God’s kingdom come to earth in the person of its king.

That message includes the need for repentance so that we may enter that kingdom and the incredible promises of new life and restoration if we do. It includes all the teachings of Jesus, encapsulated especially in the Sermon on the Mount. And it includes the identity of the king and his love for us, which undergirds everything else Jesus ever taught.

Some will object — some do object — that Jesus never proclaimed any of this that clearly. That he didn’t shout his identity as the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity (or even as the Jewish Messiah) from the rooftops. That he didn’t really make it all that clear whether the kingdom had arrived or was just arriving, to get here at some future date. That he didn’t really explain salvation and atonement and all the rest of it. Some claim that Christianity as it exists today was just made up whole cloth by Jesus’s disciples at some later date, maybe around the time the apostle Paul came on the scene.

And it’s true: Jesus was rarely all that explicit about his message. He didn’t drop a ten-ton harvest on us. Instead, he scattered seed.

Is it a little strange that God would scatter the word of his kingdom’s arrival in seed form — making it vulnerable, requiring time for it to take root and grow through a long, slow, organic process?

It is. But it’s what he did. And this is going to become a major theme in Jesus’s talking about the kingdom, as we will see.

A Return on His Investment

Even before Jesus unpacked the details of his parable, it must have been clear to the listeners that the point had to do with return on investment. A sower expects something back. He may not fully control the process, but he sows because he wants an outcome.

So we might ask: what does it mean to give a return on a word? If we are good soil, what does that mean we’ll grow?

The parable of the sower is often taught in salvation terms only, with the “word of the kingdom” being something you would find in a gospel tract, and the good soil being a person who responds by praying the sinner’s prayer. But Jesus sowed many words, and he looks for a return on all of them.

If we are good soil, we will receive the words of Christ and let them germinate in us, in the very real dirt of our lives. We will put them into action — even the hard ones, especially the hard ones. What will grow in us is love — honor — forgiveness — peace — joy — patience — faith. What will grow in us is the fruit of the Spirit, the character of Jesus in our own lives.

A seed brings forth more of itself. What grows from a seed doesn’t usually look exactly like the seed itself; an oak tree doesn’t look like an acorn. But its life was all bound up in that seed from the beginning, waiting to be released into the world.

The apostle Paul wrote that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17).

When the word of the kingdom takes root and grows in our lives, it will bring forth the manifestation of that kingdom. The kingship of God will take tangible, life-bringing form in our lives. It’s in us first. The kingdom has come and will come — in you. In me. In all of us.

We Are Sowers Too

While we seek to receive and nurture the kingdom seed within ourselves, it’s good for us to remember that we are sowers too.

Every word we speak will fall somewhere. They won’t all take root, and those that do won’t all last.

But some will. Some will grow. Some will bring forth a harvest.

It’s good to look honestly at the field of our lives — what’s growing there, where it came from, and what we are scattering onto other ground.

“But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop,” Jesus said, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

If you derived some benefit from this blog, please consider leaving a tip. I’m grateful!

P.S. Hey, did you know that my award-winning Christian fantasy series The Chronicles of Kepos Gé was inspired by the parable of the sower? You can start reading it with book 1, Seeds, today (get it from Amazon, another online retailer, or my online store).


This is Part 221 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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