Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!
…. Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on the rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
-Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (NRSV)
How do you read the Parable of the Sower? When I was younger, I turned the parable into a spiritual personality test. I read it, and asked myself, “Which seed am I?” I think this is a fairly common approach to the story, especially given our culture which lobs labels at everyone. You’re an introvert, you’re an extrovert. You’re a thinker, you’re a feeler. You’re practical, you’re abstract. You’re a pessimist, you’re an optimist, et cetera. You’re a path seed, you’re a rocky ground seed, you’re a thorn seed, you’re a good seed.
We like labels because they’re simple, and because they appear to provide a succinct summary of who we are. But, as we all know, when constructed labels encounter the reality of human nuance, they tend to crumble: there are introverts who avoid alone time, “thinkers” who rationalize by “feeling,” abstract intellectuals with deep practical wisdom, pessimists who retain a powerful sense of hope, et cetera. We also all change with time, so the label that sufficed one day may prove totally inadequate on another day. Labels are never complete, and they are never final.
It may be wise to keep this in mind when we read the Parable of the Sower. I don’t think Jesus is sorting people into boxes, as it is sometimes interpreted. No one is just one of these seeds. Have I not had moments of confusion when my love was snatched away by my own ignorance? Have I not been scorched by the sun of adversity or opposition? Have I not been choked by sinful, worldly desires? Have I not also borne fruits of love and compassion? Given enough time, we each become every seed Jesus describes. Such is the nature of our tumultuous, complicated, and paradoxical journey with and toward God.
I want to shift the attention and emphasis of our reading of this parable. We pay so much attention to the different seeds, but perhaps we should pay more attention to the person that sows them. Jesus calls it the Parable of the Sower, after all. I don’t think this parable is ultimately about who we are. I think this parable is about who God is. Do you ever notice how indiscriminate the sower is? He goes out to sow and throws seeds everywhere, even places that don’t make sense: why waste seeds and cast them all over a path? He sows recklessly. I think the love of God is like this. It is a reckless, relentless love that God constantly sows in our lives. We may not be ready to accept or live into it in some moments—the birds snatch it away, the sun scorches it, the thorns choke it—but that doesn’t stop God from loving us anyway. The sower keeps sowing—our God keeps loving—no matter how crazy, impractical, or hopeless it seems.
Where is God sowing love in your life this Lent? How might your chosen Lenten practices allow you to sprout and bear the fruit of that love? How might every new moment in this holy season be providing you with a chance to grow in love where in the past growth was cut short?
No one is just one seed. The sower keeps sowing. God keeps loving us. Let us open ourselves to that reckless, relentless love, and see what wonderful things bloom.
Aidan Stoddart ’21 is a freshman in Weld Hall.