That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘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!’
You may know the BBC documentary, “The toughest place to be.” Adventurous British workers are sent to do their job in another part of the world, usually in difficult circumstances.
One of my favourite episodes involves a London taxi driver, Mason McQueen. Mason goes to Mumbai to learn to be a taxi driver in its chaotic roads. The programme shows him alongside Pradeep Sharma, learning to drive around sleeping cows and to look out for young children playing in the middle of the street.
I like this series. In each episode the person is confronted not just with a work challenge, but also with the great differences in the income, personal safety and the culture of their counterparts in another part of the world.
In a sense the show is about how people maximise their potential in life, wherever we happen to find ourselves, whether it is, for example, in the streets of London or Mumbai.
I think this is also one way to reflect on this parable of the sower. This parable is about making the most of where we are sown.
The traditional interpretation of this parable is like this:
The sower = God. The seed = the message/word of God. The soil = the person (hearing the message).
This is how this parable is interpreted later in the same chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Many biblical scholars see this interpretation as reflecting the persecution of the church forty-fifty years after Jesus’ lifetime.
Most of Jesus’ parables in the New Testament are left un-interpreted. This might be because they have layers of meaning and are open to varying interpretations. Here is another way to enter into this parable of the sower:
The sower = God. The seed = each person. The soil = the situation we are in (in life).
So, returning to the BBC documentary, God (the sower) has created two people, Mason Mc Queen and Pradeep Sharma. Both have skills at driving, communicating, and safely transporting people across big modern cities. The sower has cast Mason into the soil of the streets of London, and Pradeep, into the soil of streets of Mumbai.
What can be said about the seeds in their respective soils? Are they on rocky ground, or are they among soils with chocking weeds, or are they in rich soil?
And what can be said about the yield? The average London taxi driver has a much higher income and a more comfortable life style than his or her counterpart in Mumbai. But what has been their yield in compassion, generosity and in human warmth?
These questions come to my mind:
Wherever one finds oneself, whether we are in rich soil or rocky ground or even surrounded by thorns, how can we best maximise our potential?
Is it just that one seed should fall in a rich soil and others among tougher ground?
Does the seed on the rich ground have a responsibility to that fallen on the rocks and among the weeds?
Suddenly this parable resonates with the other kingdom teaching of Jesus. Its focus is no longer people responding to hearing a message. Rather it is about how we can survive, prosper and nurture and support one another other in the varying circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Perhaps one of the most significant points is this: most of us have little or no control over the soil in which we are sown. We do not choose where we are born, or the schools that we went to in early life. Mason and Pradeep's lives would have been very different had either of them been born in the nation of the other.
This fascinating documentary and this inspiring parable can teach us three things:
To be humble about our ‘successes’.
To be compassionate towards other’s doing comparable job in tougher, less prosperous situations.
To think about what we can do to live in solidarity with one another, wherever we have been sown and whatever has been our yield.