on Luke 8:5-15
The soil full of thorns is like those consumed by the cares of this world. Like the rich man who went away sad when Jesus called him to generosity to the poor, for he was attached to many possessions (Matt 19, Luke 18). They were his master. St. Gregory the Great says “thorns are piercing and riches pleasurable. [But] riches are thorns because thoughts of them pierce the mind and torture it. When finally they lure a person into sin, it is as though they were drawing blood from the wound they have inflicted.”
Jesus identifies himself – the Son of man – as a sower in a different parable (Matt 13:37). Regarding today’s parable, St John Chrysostom says, "The seed is the doctrine of Christ, the ground is the souls of men, and the sower is Christ Himself" (On Matthew, Homily 44). And after Chrysostom says something, it tends to be adopted by all, because he knows what he’s talking about.
The holy martyr Justin the Philosopher says much about these seeds of the word. He believes that God has planted the seed of the word in every person and that the word that is within them is none other than the divine word who is incarnate in Christ. Even the pagan philosophers then, inasmuch as they are reasonable, and inasmuch as they know truth about anything, are dependent on Jesus Christ, even though they do not realize it. St. Justin writes, “Christ… is the Word of whom every race of men [are] partakers; and those who [live] reasonably [that is, according to the word] are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists” (First Apology, xlvi).
Today’s Parable of the Sower is among those that Jesus explains. He tells us that the seed is the word of God. And that the ground is all us folks. We’re like the dirt, which makes sense, given that we’re made of earth. Just as there’s different kinds of people, there’s different kinds of soil, and Jesus tells us what each kind represents.
The tramped down path from which the birds eat the seeds is like those easily deceived and distracted by the devil.
The rocky soil in which no roots can take hold is like the quick and easy converts who like the good news but are unwilling to endure hardship for it and so as quickly turn away. Some act as if the baptistery has a revolving door. I’ve seen it many times.
|Pope Gregorius I dictating the gregorian chants|
from the Antiphonary of Hartker
of the monastery of Saint Gall (Cod. Sang. 390, p. 13)
Finally, the good soil is like those who hear the word of God and keep it. Like those who are doers of the word and not hearers only.
But Jesus doesn’t tell us who the sower is. Who is the sower?
There are a few different ideas about this. Some say that the sower is those who preach the word of God, those who gossip the gospel, those who, like the apostles, are sent into the world to proclaim the good news that Jesus, who is the word, has by his incarnation united God with humanity and by his death and resurrection has conquered sin and death.
Certainly, when we preach this word of truth to the world, with our words and by our way of life, we will witness some who receive it wholeheartedly, like good soil receives a seed, and we will witness some who reject it out of hand, like the hard ground of a path which leaves seeds exposed to be trampled and for birds to eat, and we will witness every response in between.
And certainly, we must imitate the sower. Just as the sower scatters seed in every kind of soil, we must preach the word in the whole world, not only among those primed to listen. We must preach not only to the choir, but also to the workplace, and to the barroom, and to every place we frequent. We must put our lamp on a stand, not under a bushel, but that’s another parable.
It is a bit striking, don’t you think, that the sower even bothers to throw seed on the path and in the rocky soil and among the thorns? Is that the way a farmer plants? Indiscriminately throwing his seed all about? This sower scatters the seed everywhere, not just where it is likely to take root. This is born of a hope so hopeful that to the world it looks like folly. But you know, a path can be tilled. Rocky soil can be cleared. Thorns can be weeded. So we may yet hope for those who seem as yet unable to receive the word. We must keep sowing the seeds of the word among them. Our hope for them must be indefatigable.
Just seeds, mind you, does the sower cast into all conditions of soil. Only the seed of the word is offered to all. The fruit of that seed is yielded only in those who receive and tend it. Cast your seeds on rocky soil, yes, but not your pearls before swine.
A seed is a small thing, but it is potent. Its potential is vast, but while yet a seed, it seems insignificant. This is the nature of the things we must say and do among those we hope to evangelize. Small things. A brief statement of our hope and our joy in the Lord. A small act of kindness and love.
This is the kind of sowing we can do, but I think that, as we do it, we will always discover that there are seeds of the word already present in every human heart. Someone has already been there! We imitate the sower, but we are not the first sower.
Patiently listen to those who seem hell-bent on rejecting all the things of God. Search for, in what they say and do, a seed of the word and you will usually find it already there, begging to be tended and nurtured. That is, they will already know something of love.
Everyone is loved, you know, even those who do not know they are loved. But even those who do not know it cannot help but be influenced by the fact of being loved. Even if it goes no further than a deep, unconscious recognition that they ought to be loved. That is a seed of the word. And to know that we are not made for suffering and death is a seed of the word. On some level, everyone knows these things, because the seeds of the word have been sown in them.
Who has sown them? Who is the sower?
miniature from Liturgies of John Chrysostom
and Basil the Great,
Dujcev Research Centre - Sofia, Gr. 64, fol. 1v
But I’d like to point something out. Jesus doesn’t say that the seed is his “doctrine” exactly. He doesn’t speak of his διδαχή. He says that it is “the word of God – ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ.” The meaning is similar, but the difference is important – because who is the Logos of God? Jesus himself! Jesus is the seed. But if Jesus is the seed, is he also the sower? Well, why not? Jesus is the Good Shepherd and he is also the Lamb of God. He is the high priest, and he is also the sacrifice. So I think that he can also be both the Sower and the seed.
Nonetheless, I also believe that the scripture and the parables of Christ can hold many complementary meanings. I believe that Jesus is the sower, and that we are also sowers in imitation of him. And I’d like to propose a third understanding of this parable.
Perhaps we can also understand the sower as God the Father. The Father is the source (ἀρχή) of the word. It is of the Father that the Son is begotten and from whom the holy Spirit proceeds. God the Father sends the word into the world by the power of his holy Spirit.
The consummation of this sending is the incarnation of the word. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But even before the incarnation and in every time and place, God plants the seeds of the word.
fresco by Theophanes the Cretan
and his son Symeon
in the Stavronikita Monastery
Inasmuch as a person is on the side of truth and love, they are already Christ’s, for our God is truth and love. Our task, then, is not only to sow seeds but, perhaps more urgently, to tend the soil in which the Lord has already sown the seeds of his divinity.