The Extravagant Sower (Mark 4:1-20)January 19th, 2010
Jesus’ parable of the Sower is often treated as the parable of the Soils. We spend a great deal of time analyzing the different soils in the passage, because after all, the Sower and the seed are always the same; it is the quality of the soils that results in different levels of responsiveness. Jesus makes it clear in verse 14 that the seed is the Word of God being sown into the world, and that the Word falls on different kinds of hearts and lives. Some hear the Word, but Satan comes and snatches away what has been sown (vs. 4, 15). Others are quick to receive the Word, but they have no root, and when they encounter persecution, they fall away (vs. 5-6, 16-17). Others hear the Word, but the worries of the world and the desire for wealth choke it out (vs. 7, 18-19). Still others hear the Word and accept it, producing a fruitful crop (vs. 8, 20). It is easy to fall into conjecture about which of these soils best represents our own hearts. Into which of these four categories would we place ourselves? Of course such conjecture is impossible because if we examine our hearts in all honesty, we find that we belong to all four categories. At any one snapshot of time, we might fit more into one category than another, but our lives are not snapshots; they are moving pictures in which our heart condition spans all the different conditions of the soils. When we read about the first person who loses the Word as quickly as they receive it, we acknowledge that that is sometimes us. When we read about the second person, who loses the Word under the pressure of persecution, we acknowledge that that is sometimes us, too. When we read about the third person, who becomes distracted by the world and the deceitfulness of wealth, we must acknowledge that, far too often, that describes us as well. And when we read about the fourth person who receives the Word and produces a fruitful crop, we realize that, by faith, that is us, too. We see ourselves in all of these pictures, but we also see that through all of our own changes and fickleness, the sower remains the same, and the sower continues to sow the Word faithfully and extravagantly.
You see, we often forget that throughout the history of the church this Parable has never been called the Parable of the Soils. It has always been known as the Parable of the Sower! We are so eager to make ourselves the subject of every parable, that we often miss the point of a parable like this. This parable is giving us insight into God’s nature as much as it is into our own nature. If you read the parable and keep your eye on the sower, how does that change your reading of the parable? What should strike us is how extravagant, even wasteful, the sower seems to be. This sower never gives up, sowing even on the rockiest soils and the hardest hearts.
All through the Bible you find examples of people who did not respond to God’s call without the persistence of God in their lives. Moses started his career as a murderer, but God kept working on his life through 40 years in the Midian desert until he could be used in the way God wanted to use him. The Apostle Paul began his life as Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of the church, but God persisted in His call upon Saul’s life until he was turned around. This parable is about the extravagance of God’s grace. In the Wesleyan tradition, we call it prevenient grace – a measure of grace that has been sown into everyone’s life. God’s call to salvation is not like one of those smart bombs that flies through the air, making precise turns, deftly avoiding all the hard-hearted people, veering away from all the thorny-hearted people, and steering clear of all the shallow people in order to zero in on the ready, receptive hearts. God’s grace is extravagantly poured out. His call is like a Sower who scatters deep handfuls of seeds on rocky paths and weed-ridden soils. He lavishly pours out His Word on all people, knowing that at various times in all of our lives we cannot hear it, and sometimes we won’t hear it for long, and sometimes we will hear it but quickly lose it. But sometimes, praise God, we hear it and bear fruit! All the while the Word keeps coming because God keeps sowing. Even though there is nothing more valuable or precious than the Word of God, He is extravagant, even wasteful by our standards, in the way that He sows. We as Americans are so programmed to be efficient and practical that this picture is hard for us to understand. We often don’t embrace or reflect the extravagance of God in our sowing of His Word in the world.
Missionaries who work among Muslims often go years without seeing a single person come to faith. They work year after year building relationships, sharing and praying, but often see little fruit. If the church were to judge such ministries on the basis of “efficiency” and “return on investment” it would surely seem a poor use of God’s servants and a waste of hard earned resources. But God does not see it this way! The missionary who continues to throw seed on what appears, at the moment, to be hard, rocky soil is merely reflecting the extravagance of the Divine Sower. Church growth is, of course, a wonderful thing. However, faithfulness to God and His Word cannot be judged merely by whether a church is growing or not. The key is to be a faithful sower; God will take care of the harvest. After all, He is the Lord of the harvest!
In Christ, God sows His salvation extravagantly and offers it to the hard-hearted and the receptive alike. The Devil will always try to snatch away God’s seed. He will try to choke it out. But we must see beyond our own hearts, and even beyond the work of Satan, and keep our eyes on the extravagant Sower. Someday, at the end of time, we will all be able to look back and see the full story of human history. We will be able to look back and see God’s amazing interventions in the human race. We will also be able to look back and see the full extent of Satan’s wicked opposition to God’s rule in the world. However, the overall testimony of that final day will be about the extravagance of God’s sowing in the world. We will see clearly that His sowing has been more consistent than the Devil’s snatching! His sowing has been more powerful than the Devil’s eating! His sowing has been more enduring that the Devil’s tribulation! His sowing has been more consistent than the Devil’s choking! May we learn to live in the light of this reality. Make it your ambition to sow extravagantly into the lives of everyone you meet. This is how we will live if we always keep our eyes fixed on the Extravagant Sower!
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