Because the Parable of the Sower is common to the Synoptic Gospels, we are probably already quite familiar with it: Jesus tells the story of a sower who scattered seed all around the ground. Some seed fell on a path, where birds ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, which lacked the depth for the seed to take root and grow. Still other seed fell among thorns, which choked up the seed. Finally, some seed fell into good soil and bore tremendous fruit (“thirty and sixty and a hundred fold”).
All three Gospels include an explanation of the Parable. Basically the explanation is the same: the seed on the path represents those who hear the word, but Satan then comes and takes away what is sown (Mk 4:15). The seed that falls on rocky ground lacks deep enough ground to take root, so even though they receive the word with joy, their enthusiasm withers. The seed that falls among but Luke adds that the seed that falls in the good soil represents those who “when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Lk 8:15).
Focus: the Ground that is Sown or the Sower Himself?
We probably focus our attention primarily on the ground, and rightly ask, “Am I on good ground or not?” Aided by the interpretations in the text, we reflect on whether we are the path, where the devil takes away what is sown (Mk 4:15), or the rocky ground that lacks roots, and recognize that we too easily fall away “when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word” (Mk 4:17). Or we might find ourselves among the thorns, which represent the cares of the world (4:18-19). Of course, we want to be the good soil that accepts the word that is sown.
But what about the sower? Even in Jesus’s interpretation, it seems that not much attention is given to the sower. All that is said is that he sows the word (Mk 4:14). Perhaps we need imagination to better appreciate this. Note that in all three accounts, the Sower’s action is not qualified. In other words, there is no limit to the Sower’s sowing. It does not say that the Sower only comes to sow on good ground, or that he sows more seed in some areas than in others. He simply sows, even wastefully it seems.
Even those with only a small experience in growing plants will recognize that it is wasteful to plant in ground that is not cultivated. Anyone with common sense would know that you can’t grow anything on a slab of concrete, and that you can’t grow much on ground that has weeds. So what’s the point? Clearly, Jesus is trying to tell us something about the “sheer goodness,” the loving-kindness and mercy, the total generosity of God. God withholds nothing, not even his beloved son, to save us.
Jesus was also therefore telling us something about himself. Jesus sows the word without qualification, without boundaries, without limits. He sows so generously so that everyone, even Judas Iscariot, has a chance. It is the generosity of the Sower that makes the question “Am I on good ground or not?” so important. When we are aware of how generous and merciful Jesus is, we will have all the motivation in the world to clear the ground, uproot the weeds in our lives, and be vigilant of the “vultures” that can steal the seed.
From the Sower to the Sowers
While we must always examine our ground, the Parable of the Sower also expresses something important about our vocation as disciples. We are called to be as generous as Jesus is. This is especially key to remember if we are to embrace New Evangelization. Jesus was willing to sow seed even among rocky and thorny ground. Indeed, he had sown seed among the outcasts of society, and among those who would betray him or fail. We must be just as courageous. History shows that many of the Church’s saints were on the “bad ground” for parts of their life. Where would Augustine (“grant me chastity, but not yet!”) be without his mother Monica’s persistent “gardening”? So many people in the Church, whether canonized saints or not, have benefited from generous sowers. That is what the Church needs more of today.
Sometimes people involved in the ecclesial movements are tempted to view one’s parish or diocese as bad ground compared to the seemingly richer soil found among the movements. After all, many view their movements as lively and dynamic, and might find their parishes to be suspicious of more charismatic forms of expression. In other cases, perhaps the parish seems to be lukewarm and dull at best. But first of all, that is a presumption. We do not know what is stirring in the hearts of parishioners. There is oftentimes a real and noble motivation to participate in Mass among the ordinary folk whom we see Sunday after Sunday, or even among those who come less frequently, but perhaps people do not have the means or habit of expressing why they go and what they believe.
Second, to adopt such a negative view would run against everything that Jesus modeled in his own life. Jesus did not withhold anything; no, he emptied himself (cf. Phil 2:6-11). He was generous to the point of creating in superabundance (such as at the Wedding at Cana). And as he sowed seed, he himself became like a grain of wheat by literally falling into the earth and dying (cf. John 12:24). Look at how fruitful he continues to be even today.
Conclusion: A Sower Went Out to Sow
As disciples of the Lord, we have to be sowers in the mold of the Sower himself. We must be generous, selfless, tilling ground that does not seem favorable to us.. Note how the Gospel does not specify where the Sower goes. The Parable simply says the Sower “went out to sow.” That too is a sign to us. We are being called more than ever to go out of our comfort zones to proclaim the Gospel. Those in ecclesial movements are invited to go out of the ecclesial movements and into the wider church and the world. Those who are based in parishes are invited to go out as well. Indeed, we are all invited to go out “into all the world” to proclaim the Gospel (Mk 16:15). This means embracing people on the “periphery,” those who are “down and out,” those who are “outside” in any way.
It is always essential to examine our own “ground,” but in order to bear abundant fruit, we do not simply need to be on fruitful ground; we also need to be generous sowers. Perhaps today the Parable of the Sower can inspire us to pray for the grace of generosity in our efforts at New Evangelization, so that as we embrace the local church and go out into the world to proclaim the Gospel, we can better emulate the Sower himself. We might be surprised at the yield out there.