Lectionary Year A
July 14, 2002
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Hermeneutical Bridge


Jesus' telling a parable and interpreting it is as salient as it gets. Still, the description of the sources from and through which seeds grow has got to number right up there near the top of the list, too. Then, when Jesus identifies the various sources and the profoundly differing results, at the end of the pericope, we get very close to the heart of the matter. Could this formula be the "center of gravity" for this lection? I think not necessarily. That formula is a generalization, an illustrative figure to exaggerate the various outcomes. The more pertinent "center of gravity" is, for me at this stage, the process of being sown, germinating and growing. Believers do those sorts of things as we get mysteriously conceived, born, grow and develop as faithful followers of Christ and servants of God. We do so, thanks to the grace of God, throughout life in the very midst of hardships galore. That acknowledgement is significant for me.


1 Thereafter, Jesus went out of the house to sit beside the sea. 2 A crowd of many people gathered around Him, so many that got into a boat and sat there. The crowd stayed on the shore. 3 He told them many things in parables. One began, "Listen, a farmer went out to sow seed. 4 As he sowed, some seeds fell on the hard path and birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky terrain which had only shallow soil. They sprang up quickly since they had no depth of soil. 6 So, when the sun rose, it scorched them. And, since they had inadequate rootage, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns which grew up and choked them. 8 However, other seeds fell into good soil and produced fruit, some like a hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty. 9 Let all listening, hear for understanding."

18 "Hear, now, about the parable of the sower. 19 To everyone who hears the message of the Kingdom without understanding it, evil comes and carries away what was sown in their heart; this is what is meant by the seeds sown on the path. 20 Concerning what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who receives the word and hastily rejoices; 21 however, such a person has too little rootage, so only temporarily remains, but trouble becomes them through persecution by which the word hastily gives up. 22 As for those sown among thorns, this is anyone who hears the word, and the anxieties of this age and the deception of wealth choke the word and it becomes barren. 23 Yet, referring to what was sown into good soil, this image represents the word heard and understood, the one bearing fruit and producing like in the hundreds, in the sixties and in the thirties."


This materialistic and commercialistic age in which we live chokes life out of us much too much for God's Word to bear much fruit through us these days. This parable can give us more realistic vision of the contexts in which we attempt to live our lives in faith. It can give us hope, too, in that we, with God's help, can survive and grow and produce faithfully. It can put the environs in which we live into proper perspective and point beyond them to the Ultimate Realities of Divinity, still and always, in charge, sovereignly. God's role in this parable is that of Creator, Orderer of Nature and Provider of such fertilizing resources as water, nutrients in the soil and patterns of growth. People in pews need to hear and comprehend the very authentic Power of God's Word, especially as here it gets told, interpreted & fulfilled by Jesus Christ Himself.

History of Interpretation
John Calvin
"The seed of the teaching is not everywhere fruitful when it is broadcast ... ." Calvin, then, utters a warning against judging to quickly what this parable is all about ... a warning that one ought to consider carefully: "The only thing I would warn readers of at this point is that if those who came from remote places like starving men (human beings; my emphasis) were compared to useless and sterile soil (lack of depth of soil! m.e.), what wonder is it if today the Gospel bears no fruit in many?" Furthermore, the parable does not address those who openly oppose God's word, simply those who seem to be teachable.

"... we should note ... carefully, ... we must not think that God's graces can fail in themselves, even though their effect may not reach us." Calvin appears to "protect" God's sovereignty. If people do not hear or understand, it is not on account of God's faulty word or grace, but on account on the human being's stubborn heart and its refusal to hear. "Therefore the Gospel is always a fruitful seed in power, but not in act." Some other people lack what Calvin calls "living feeling," the continuous search of the depth of one's own heart. The only "guarantee" that human beings have to be counted among the true hearers of God's word is to be sealed by the "Spirit of adoption." The Spirit never extinguishes those upon whose heart living faith has been engraved.

Karl Barth
The parable speaks of ...
1) the proclamation of the word, 2) the hearing of the word, and 3) the division/separation among the hearers.
- the word speaks a message which concerns all human beings (logos basileia)
- it does not merely touch them externally but is sown into their hearts (down to the very marrow)
- the sower only knows one field upon which to sow
- in the midst of the world/cosmos, the self-proclamation of God's Kingdom must appear strange
- "God our Savior wishes that all human beings might be saved and (therefore) come to the knowledge of truth." (1 Tim 2:4)
- division into infertile/fertile soil comes as a surprise, since the whole cosmos is God's sowing field, i.e. this is not self-evident
- this is an impossible possibility that unfortunately comes true
- all who hear the word, even those who do not bear fruit, "understand" it in the common sense of the word
- but "understanding" here (sunienai) means more than mere understanding, it means hearing the word and at the same time acting upon it
- thus, there is understanding without consequent action, and understanding that results in action

Hermeneutical Bridge
Perhaps this parable is not so much about human beings and what they hear or don't hear, what they do or don't do, but about the great struggle and fight of God and God's son in the power of the Holy Spirit for this God's world. And the fact, that in spite of all the worldly opposition that God's word encounters (rocky soil, thorns ...), Christ emerges victorious in the end: Christus Victor! If that's not Good News!

Reading all about sowing, planting and growing reminded me of a rock 'n roll song that I heard for the first time about two years ago. It seemed that every time I got in my car and turned on the radio, this particular song was played. It is called "Hole in my Soul." At first, I thought "What a stupid song," but the more I listened to the chorus the more I began thinking about this hole in the soul of all human beings, including myself. A hole in each human being's soul where nothing grows for lack of light, unless God's divine Light shines into this darkness. Without this light, there is no "soul growth," just as there is no plant growth without natural sun light. Try raising a house plant in a dark room and watch it wither and die in no time at all. But take it outside and marvel at the wonder that only "true light" can bring about. Without God's light in Jesus Christ, human life is truly nothing but "a thorn without a rose."

There's a hole in my soul that's been killing me forever,
it's a place where a garden never grows.
There's a hole in my soul yeah, I should have known better,
cause your love's like a thorn without a rose.

[Aerosmith, "Hole in my Soul"]

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