We heard the parable of the sower at yesterday’s Sunday Mass. Someone asked me the following 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).
And thus the question, why would God waste any seed on rocky or thin soil, or on 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 on which we can only speculate. So, here are some potential “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, and a vast array of different sorts of trees, mammals, fish, etc. “Extravagant” barely covers it. The word “extravagant” means “going or wandering 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 in almost 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 a failed seed represents one who ultimately rejects 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 God still loves 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 ultimately reject him and He will not, despite knowing ahead of time of that rejection, say to them, “You cannot exist.” He thus scatters that seed even though He knows it will not bear the fruit He wishes. 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. The fact 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 ask “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 the Lord to 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. In other words, 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 sowing faithfully rather than merely harvesting. Sometimes we can become a bit downcast when it seems our work has borne 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 through which the Lord sows the seed of His Word. By God’s grace, the Word is in our hands, 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 that remains 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 anyway. 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 remark sadly, 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 because he wants to teach us to persevere whatever the outcome.
I interpret this video to mean that God will never withdraw His offer rather than that He is trying to force a solution. For though He wants to save us and promises never to let us go, He respects our freedom to let go.