There is a children’s rhyme that goes: Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, And pretty maids all in a row. Even though this children’s rhyme has been around since the 18th century, it has been interpreted to have a hidden meaning back to the 16th century and has been used in works of literature, music, film and television. It also has several different endings: And so my garden grows; Sing cuckolds all in a row; Cowslips all in a row, With lady bells all in a row; Marigolds all in a row. It also has several versions which begin with Mistress Mary rather than Mary, Mary. The history of something so familiar and how it is view can be quite amazing.
The passage we are looking at today is one that is very familiar. It is a passage with a varied and colorful history of interpretation. It is the parable of the sower. Because it is so familiar and because it has been misused and abused in its interpretation, it sometimes can be taken lightly. This is a dangerous thing to do with the Word of God, and especially with a parable like this that is mention three times in the Gospels.
There are some who say this parable should be named differently. They say it should be called the parable of the soils or the parable of the seed. However, since Jesus himself calls it the parable of the sower in verse 18, it is probably good to keep our focus there. In fact, Jesus himself is the sower. He is the one who brings the Word to life. In John 1:1 we are told: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This was true then and it is still true today!
Now there are some things we need to understand. When Jesus uses a parable, there is a key truth he is striving to get across. In this parable and its interpretation, that truth has both a promised outcome and a practical application. The promised outcome is this: God’s plan is going to bring about God’s abundant harvest no matter what Satan does, what the world does, or what we do. The practical application of this parable is that it is a tool we are to use to examine our own spiritual lives.
In preparing for this sermon, I came across a small difference the version of this parable in Matthew and the versions in Luke and Mark. Since I do believe the Scripture is given as a guide to help us draw closer to our Lord, to understand our real circumstances, and literally does feed our soul (giving us the confidence and strength to overcome fear and spiritual seduction) I strive to pay attention to anything in the Bible text that can have an impact on our understanding. I have no idea how many times I have studied, taught and preached on this passage, but this is the first time this difference caught my attention.
This difference is rather technical but significant. In both Luke and Mark, when Jesus says, He who has an ear, hearing, let him hear. The word hearing is an infinitive implying continual understanding. In Matthew the infinitive is not there. This puts the emphasis on the imperative, on the command, let him hear. In fact a better translation would be: The one having ears, HEAR!
It is in the hearing of the Good News, the proclamation of Jesus that one is given the ability to hear. The command to hear is a call to listen to Jesus. In listening to Jesus the opportunity to understand comes. It is not optional. There is no other way. If we do not hear what Jesus says, then we have no hope.
How many times have we heard testimonies from individuals socialized into (means they grew up in or were taught) a different faith perspective or lack of faith perspective, coming to an understanding of who Jesus is, was, and will be not on the basis of their understanding, but of the power within the message itself. It is this focus on the command to hear that the familiar moves from shallow to deep, from the comfortable to the convicted. This parable gives us a contrast. It teaches us about the spiritual dangers we face. We are to hear it and hear it and hear it. It is a call to a continuous examination of where the word of God is in our lives. We are to hear because is seeking to cast the seed of his word were it can grow in our lives. This parable is a practical tool of examination.
Folks, there is a great hope in this. Look again at verse 23. The good soil will produce an abundant harvest for our Lord. Now, in the time of Jesus, the typical return on a harvest was 7 ½% increase (7 ½ fold). Tenfold was considered very, very good. Thirty fold would have been a miracle. Sixty fold winner the lottery 4 times in a row, and 100 fold was absolutely supernatural.
Folks, through reflection, through obeying the command to hear, God’s word can change our perspectives. God’s word can change our lives. God’s word can change the harvest for him our lives produce. Yes, there will be times the evil one will steal away the word from our heart. Yes there will be times the world will choke out the word. Yes there will be times we get excited and then dry up. But if we listen, if we continually hear the word, we will also have times of being the good soil that will produce that abundance of which Jesus speaks. This is the goal of the Christian life. Again, hear the word of our Lord: John 15:4-5 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. Folks the purpose of coming to church is to rejoice in what God has done and to be organized to be God’s harvest. It is not to gather a big crowd. It is not to make us think we are good people. It is not to be entertained, or be a social service agency. It is to hear the Worship the Word, pray the Word, hear the Word and then be grown by the Word, the Word that has become flesh, the Word that is Jesus, God with us.
However, if we do not hear and obey, if we do not listen and reflect, if we do continually let the sower’s seed fall on us, we will not experience the joy at the harvest that God has intended for us. This life does have consequences.
Folks, hear what Jesus says: Satan will snatch the Word from us. What must we do? James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. The world will choke the Word from us. What must we do? 1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. The lack of spiritual depth will dry us up. What must we do? Hebrews 6:7-9 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case– things that accompany salvation.
Jesus is the sower. We our desire is to please him, when our mission is to follow him, when our choice is to hear him, we will overcome. We will produce the bountiful harvest. If we do not listen, then we will not live up to the purpose God has for us.
A husband and wife were driving down a country lane on their way to visit some friends. They came to a muddy patch in the road and the car became bogged. After a few minutes of trying to get the car out by themselves, they saw a young farmer coming down the lane, driving some oxen before him.
The farmer stopped when he saw the couple in trouble and offered to pull the car out of the mud for $50. The husband accepted and minutes later the car was free. The farmer turned to the husband and said, “You know, you’re the tenth car I’ve helped out of the mud today.”
The husband looks around at the fields incredulously and asks the farmer, “When do you have time to plough your land? At night?”
“No,” the young farmer replied seriously, “Night is when I put the water in the hole.”
Jesus wants us to be the good soil. He wants us to be part of God’s bountiful, supernatural, wonderful harvest. Not just a mud hole.
The name we carry, it may vary
But how does our garden grow
Make sure the seed, is where we need
To be confident in harvest we’ll know.