We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

The Sower’s background

Like any story, a parable is a window into the mind of the author. People describe only what they can imagine; and imagination depends on what a person has seen, heard or read about. In this case the agricultural image of sowing seed indicates the rural perspective of both the speaker & original audience.

The parables were a favorite teaching device of Jesus. People loved the stories that Jesus created and told. His stories were drawn from every day life, from the simplicities of every day life. Jesus did not use theological abstractions as the Apostle Paul did. By telling a story, Jesus created pictures of those abstract ideas. The abstract idea became concrete and visual.

Jesus wanted his original twelve disciples to begin thinking in the logic of parables, in the symbolism of parables, in the possibilities of the parables. Jesus wanted his first disciples to look for and find the “heavenly meanings to his earthly stories,” and Jesus wants us contemporary disciples to do the same.

In this first parable of Jesus, he chose the most common of experiences from the everyday lives of people: “seeds, sowers, hard paths, rocky soil, thorny soil, good soil.” These were as common as scenes as possible, but in the commonness, Jesus saw illustrations about God and his kingdom. In the soil and the sower, Jesus saw signs about how God works in this world.

Here the speaker describes a process called broadcasting: taking handfuls of seed and scattering it to the wind rather than depositing it directly in prepared soil. This method of planting was widely used in primitive agriculture, particularly in hilly regions like Galilee where rocks that could destroy a cast-iron plow often lay just below the surface. Since geological pressures cause subterranean rocks to migrate upward, farmers cannot be sure from year to year just where the rocks and the fertile soil are located. Finding & removing all rocks would be inefficient & time-consuming. So each spring Mediterranean grain farmers simply scattered the relatively inexpensive seed across their fields. Of course some would be lost to the unpredictable forces of nature: birds, weeds, hard ground, lack of rainfall. But there was always enough good soil to insure a harvest. So, from time immemorial broadcasting was the normal process of planting in the eastern Mediterranean.

A farmer may therefore live several miles from his field, in which case he literally "goes forth" to it

Palestine is an unfenced land, and the roads or paths lead through the fields. They are usually trodden hard by centuries of use. Grain falling on them could not take root. Its fate was either to be crushed by some foot, or to be carried off by some bird. Palestine abounds in thorns. These four several conditions of soil may be readily found lying close to each other in the Plain of Gennesaret

Thus, the parable of the sower describes an annual ritual that any ancient rural audience was bound to recognize. The only unusual detail is the size of the harvest. In a good year a farmer might reap 5 to 10 times what he planted. So, ancient people familiar with normal yields would certainly have been particularly struck by this parable’s prediction of a bumper crop 10 times ordinary expectations.

This parable is, therefore, a description of a common event with an extraordinarily optimistic outcome. The exaggerated details of the punch line indicate that expectation of an abundant harvest is the point that the person formulating this parable intended to stress. All the other details about losses simply prepare the audience for the dramatic contrast at the end. So the point built into the logical structure of the parable of the sower is that the benefits of broadcasting more than compensate for anything that is lost in the process.

Although this is usually regarded as a seed parable, Luke is the only writer to use the word "seed." Matthew & Mark fail to specify what the sower is broadcasting. Translators have supplied "seed" in English versions of Matthew & Mark [square brackets] to clarify their vague Greek pronouns.