1 Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, 2 along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; 3 Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.
4 One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: 5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. 6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, ‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’ 11 This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest. 16No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. 17 For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all. 18 So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.”
The reversal theme Luke has been developing carries an important implication that we see in the beginning of this passage. Women were key leaders in the early Jesus movement. In fact, women have been key leaders throughout the history of the church. Sadly, they have often had to lead despite and in the face of persecution from male members of their church communities, who seem to have ignored this passage and all of Luke’s Gospel really. I have discussed before the issue of women serving at the highest levels of church authority. I am not going to rehash that here, but suffice it to say I am convinced the practices and teaching of Jesus should take precedence over all else, even the cultural accommodations of Paul. Those who restrict or deny women from pastoring or otherwise leading in the church are not following Jesus as well as they ought.
The parable of the sower is found in Matthew and Mark as well, and as we keep seeing Luke does some subtle, yet significant editing. He cleans up the grammar and makes the analogy more consistent with its agricultural theme. The seed in rocky soil suffers from lack of moisture. The plants choked by weeds are unable to mature their fruit. The tribulation/persecution becomes a season of testing – the etiolation all seed goes through. I think each of these is worth reflecting on as Luke presents them. Spend some time thinking about what moisture might mean for you, what it looks like for seed to break through in your life, what fruit ripening means to you.
Luke also does two things in keeping with his overall project. He alone states flatly that “the seed is the word of God.” He also drops the thirty and sixty fold options that Matthew and Mark have. These moves both reflect the primacy of the Holy Spirit who brings forth the word of God (we cannot speak the word of God apart from the Spirit) and is responsible for all fruit produced.
Finally, the desired response from the parable is different for each writer. Mark wants the hearer to “accept it.” Matthew wants the hearer to “understand it.” Luke wants the hearer to “hold it fast in an honest and good heart and bring forth fruit with patience.” This is more clearly a call for a faith response and stance of protecting what has been received. But so we don’t misunderstand, Luke follows this parable and explanation with the metaphor of not hiding a lamp under a bushel. Protecting the seed does not mean hiding it away like a squirrel storing nuts for winter. Ironically, we protect the seed implanted in us by sowing it into others. We toss out the seed that is the word of God as freely, continuously, and indiscriminately as the sower in the parable. We hold it fast by casting it far and wide. This is also how we bear fruit. This is the work each and every follower of Jesus is called to without exception or limitation (see my first point above).
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.