We are reading the parable of the Sower in Daily Mass. Someone asked me a question: Since the sower is the Son of Man, Jesus himself, why would the Lord, who knows everything ahead of time, sow seed he knew would not bear fruit?

First, let’s review the text:

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.” (Matt 13:1-9)

So the question presents, Why then would God waste any seed on rocky or thin soil, or the path?

Perhaps a series of possible “answers” is all we can venture. I place “answers” in quotes since we are in fact touching on some mysteries here of which we can only speculate. So, here are some “answers.”

I. God is extravagant - it is not just seed He scatters liberally, it is everything. There are hundreds of billions of stars in over 100 billion galaxies, most of these seemingly devoid of life as we understand it. Between these 100 billion galaxies are huge amounts of, what seems to be, empty space. On this planet where one species of bird would do, there are thousands of species, tens of thousands of different sorts of insects, a vast array of different sorts of trees, mammals, fish etc. “Extravagant” barely covers it. The word “extravagant” means “to go, or wander beyond.” And God has gone vastly beyond anything we can imagine. But God is love, and love is extravagant. The image of him sowing seeds, almost in a careless way is thus consistent with the usual way of God.

This of course is less an answer to the question before us than a deepening of the question. The answer, if there is one, is caught up in the mystery of love. Love does not say, what is the least I can do? It says “What more can I do.” If a man loves a woman, he does not look for the cheapest gift on her birthday, rather he looks for an extravagant gift. God is Love and God is extravagant.

II. Even if the failed seed represents those who ultimately reject him, God loves that seed anyway. Remember, as Jesus goes on to explain, the seeds that fail to bear fruit, are symbols of those who allow riches, worldly preoccupation, persecution and other things to draw them away from God. But, even knowing this, does not change God’s love for them. He still wills their existence. Scripture says elsewhere, But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt 5:44-45).

Yes, God loves even those who will reject him and will not, knowing ahead of that rejection, say to them, “You cannot exist.” He thus scatters even that seed, knowing ahead of time that it will not bear fruit. Further, he continues to send the sun and rain, even on those who will reject him.

Hence this parable shows forth God’s unfailing love. He sows seeds, even knowing they will not bear the fruit he wants. He wills the existence of all, even those who he knows ahead of time will reject him.

III. That God sows seeds and allows them to fall on bad soil is indicative of God’s justice. The various places the seed falls is indicative of human freedom, more than illustrative of the intent of God. For one may still question, “Why would God “allow” seed to fall on the path, or among thorns, or in rocky soil?” And the only answer here is that God has made us free. Were He to go and take back the seeds that fell in unfruitful places one could argue that God withdrew his grace and that one was lost on account of this, namely that God manipulated the process by withdrawing every possible grace. But God, in justice calls everyone and offers sufficient grace for all to come to faith and salvation. And thus the sowing of the seed everywhere is indicative of God’s justice.

IV. The variety of outcomes teaches us to persevere and look to faithfully sowing, rather than merely to the harvest. Sometimes we can become a bit downcast when it seems our work has born little fruit. And the temptation is to give up. But, as an old saying goes, “God calls us to be faithful, not successful.” In other words, it is up to us to be the means the means whereby the Lord sows the seed of his Word. The Word is in our hands, by God’s grace, but the harvest is not.

This parable teaches us that not every seed we sow will bear fruit. In fact a lot of it will not, for the reasons described by the Lord in a later part of the parable.

The simple mandate remains ad is this: preach the Word, Go unto all the nations and make disciples.  St. Paul would later preach to Timothy: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:2). In other words, sometimes the gospel is accepted, sometimes it is rejected. Preach it any way. Sometimes the gospel is popular, sometimes not. Preach it anyway. Sometimes the Gospel is in season, sometimes it is out of season. Preach it anyway. Sow the seeds, don’t give up.

Discharge your duty! St. Paul goes on to sadly remark, For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Tim 4:3-5). Once again the message is the same: preach anyway, sow the seed of the Word, persevere, do not give up, do not be discouraged. Discharge your duty and be willing to endure hardship, just preach! Some of the seed will yield a rich harvest, some will not, preach anyway.

So, permit these “answers.” God sows seed he knows will bear no fruit because he is extravagant, because he loves and wills the existence even of those he knows will reject him, because of his justice, and to teach us to persevere, whatever the outcome.

I interpret this video to mean that God will never withdraw his offer, not that he is trying to force a solution. For though he wants to save us, and promises never to let go, he respects our freedom to let go.

15 Responses

  1. TaillerHews says:

    Msgr Pope states, “Sometimes we can become a bit downcast when it seems our work has born little fruit. And the temptation is to give up. But, as an old saying goes, ‘God calls us to be faithful, not successful.’”

    You are so right. Thank you.

  2. [...] ZENIT.org The “Mystery of Life” Makes Law a Mystery – William Haun, Public Discourse Pondering the Parable of the Sower – Msgr. Charles Pope, ADW Blog Raise Your Kids to Be Open-Minded About Religion? – J. [...]

  3. Rebecca Teti says:

    This is a beautiful reflection, Msgr — esp. about God’s extravagance.

    With regard to point #3, may I presume to make an additional point? If I think of the soil as my heart, doesn’t the parable also indicate my obligation to ongoing conversion — to change my own heart into better soil for the Gospel by breaking up rocky ground, or amending the soil? I converted 25 years ago and there are many things in scripture or Church teaching I feel I’m only just beginning to understand or be able to receive — or that I think about entirely differently when I once thought I understood well! And if I can see my own heart change over time, that gives me hope that some seed that apparently falls pointlessly to the ground may bear fruit eventually after all. I’m a very indifferent gardener, but nonetheless have had the experience of planting something that didn’t come up — and then suddenly sprang forth unexpectedly years later long after I’d forgotten it was even there.

    The Lord’s word does not come back to him empty he says in another context…all the more reason, as you say, for us to do our part in sowing and let him worry about the harvest.

  4. JohnR says:

    I really like this explanation that God is extravagant. Of course to anyone who knows anything about agriculture these days, seed is carefully placed in position by mechanical means using a seed-drill. But Jesus is talking about the way things were done in his day and this concept of extravagance truly sums up God’s love.
    Thanks be to God.

  5. Mark O'Neil says:

    This question is really a variation of the question that asks why God allows evil to occur. There are many reasons why God would permit evil to occur.

    1) Letting evil to occur allows God to teach His creatures about attributes of His glorious nature (grace, mercy, justice, holiness, etc.) that His creatures would never otherwise experience or know about sufficiently. The permission of evil is part of God’s revelation of Himself to His creatures (I.e. …you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good…). God is sovereignly in control over the evil He permits His creatures to do.

    2) Letting evil to occur allows God to teach/reveal to His creatures what happens if they are left to their own devices. How can we know the true extent of our own depravity before God if God never permits His creatures to taste the consequences for their rejection and rebellion against Him.

    Permitting evil teaches us our true need and utter dependence upon God. It gives His creatures the opportunity to morally mature so that we can reflect God’s nature freely reciprocating God’s love. Those who are lost eternally serve to highlight God’s true and holy nature and are a pedagogical device for those persons who are objects of God’s grace.

  6. [...] ZENIT.org The “Mystery of Life” Makes Law a Mystery – William Haun, Public Discourse Pondering the Parable of the Sower – Msgr. Charles Pope, ADW Blog Raise Your Kids to Be Open-Minded About Religion? – J. [...]

  7. Patricia says:

    thank you, wonderful post . God’s extravagance, and His love for us, I shall try to keep those thoughts close .

  8. one anonymous says:

    We have free choice. Choice desired and given to us by God, and even though He is all knowing and knows our final hour and if we will reject Him for all eternity, still He will cede (to let go) to our choice… we are free to choose anyway.

    Matthew 13:27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

    28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

    “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

    29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

  9. Repent and Believe the Gospel ! says:

    Because of free will, the unbelievers and evil doers will have no excuses on the Day of Judgement. Because they were given the chance to hear the Gospel and they did not repent. These wicked people can never say: Lord, you never sow the seed. But He did!

  10. Candida Eittreim says:

    Msgr. Pope, You are a true son of our Father. Your simply beautiful reflection rocketed straight into my soul. I have wept much in my ministry, questioned priests and ministers as to why God allowed some to flourish and others to fall in rocky ground. It hurts me to my soul realizing some souls will never know this joy, this love and peace. Today, reading your reflection, i found the answers that somehow slid home deep and will remain.

    For you are right, God is extravagant, gloriously extravagant! All i need do is look outside at the absolutely stunning array of works from His mighty hand. He is everywhere, if we would only seek Him. We are blessed with some very good and spiritual priests. Rarely do we encounter one such as you that bears the authentic touch of God in Him. You Msgr. are saving souls. Deo gratias!

  11. RichardGTC says:

    I think the truth for most of us is that God respects our freedom more than we would like Him to.

  12. edraCruz says:

    They say there is no God because evil exists. So how can one explain goodness? Come to think of it, if evil exists there must be goodness, for how can we call good, good if there is no evil. And if there is good there must be gradients of goodness such as there are levels of evils. If there are levels, then there must be superlative good and superlative evil. That is where we can comprehend the existence of GOD, the Goodness of GOD so generous, so faithful, so extravagant (thanks for this word, Monsignor) that HE provides even though we can choose to turn away from HIM. HE lets the sun shine both on believers and unbelievers. YHWH YIREH!!! In these times when we feel defeated, you light up our souls. Preach it anyway!

  13. Doug O'C says:

    . I believe that the “answers” are merely restatements of the real question: Why would a perfect, all-loving, all merciful God create a soul that He knows from all eternity would spend it’s eternity in damnation forever? Even to we morally limited humans it would seem more merciful not to create that soul in the first place.

  14. one anonymous says:

    This is the Gospel reading for July 30, this is the Sacred Word given to His Church… can we misinterpret something so clear? Why does God tell us so clearly yet we refuse to listen? I guess that is why Jesus says, “whoever has ears….” for there are some who do not want to “hear”.

    Gospel Mt 13:36-43
    Jesus dismissed the crowds and went into the house.
    His disciples approached him and said,
    “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
    He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
    the field is the world, the good seed the children of the Kingdom.
    The weeds are the children of the Evil One,
    and the enemy who sows them is the Devil.
    The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
    Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
    so will it be at the end of the age.
    The Son of Man will send his angels,
    and they will collect out of his Kingdom
    all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
    They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
    where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
    Then the righteous will shine like the sun
    in the Kingdom of their Father.
    Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

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