“Scattering Seeds”

Scripture – Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, July 16, 2023


The teacher handed each child in the class a five-ounce Dixie cup half-filled with soil. Next, she parceled out a couple of tiny seeds to each child and explained that they were going to be partners with God in creating a small plant. The children were thrilled with the prospect of becoming co-creators, so they buried their seeds in the soil, added water and set their cups on the windowsill on the sunny side of the room. Then, each day they came to class, they peered into the little cups, watching for the magic to unfurl.

We adults often forget the astonishing nature of seeds, don’t we? Miniscule seeds dropped into the dirt can produce a beautiful array of colors as they grow into asters or azaleas, snapdragons or sun flowers. In our backyard, seeds have produced three flourishing tomato plants, and we have just begun to enjoy their delicious bounty.

Every seed is as a powerful packet of possibility ready to explode into something grand; primed to multiply to many times its size. Yet a seed cannot achieve such heights without what? Anyone. (Water, soil, and sun).

While seeds are brimming with potential, many never reach their destiny. They fail to flourish because poor conditions thwart their ability to take root and blossom.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we find Jesus on the banks of the Sea of Galilee with a growing crowd. As more and more come to hear him, he climbs into a boat and pushes out a few yards from shore. The boat becomes his pulpit and the natural acoustics of the water surface amplify his voice.

Why did Jesus employ parables to convey his message? I suspect because stories are easy to remember and they can imbed themselves in us. Further, stories can convey multiple meanings and they draw us into the narrative because we are curious to hear what is coming next.

So, as the crowd on the beach is leaning forward to catch the wisdom of this spiritual teacher whose reputation has proceeded him, Jesus tells a parable. He says, “A sower went out to sow. And as he scattered his seeds, some fell on a path and the birds ate them. Some fell in the gravel. They sprouted quickly, but could not put down roots, so they withered. Some fell among thorns and the thorns choked them. But some of the seeds fell on good soil – ahhh- and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold.”

What might this parable mean for 21st century North Americans? You remember that in our reading, we leapt over a few verses to an interpretation of the parable. I should tell you that a number of New Testament scholars are skeptical of the idea that the interpretation came from the lips of Jesus. For one thing, Jesus usually told a parable and then let people wrestle with it without explaining it. And for another, there are several words in the interpretation that Jesus never used elsewhere. Many scholars conclude that someone else inserted the interpretation years later.

That be as it may, the parable beckons us to interpret it so that we can discern its message for us. The seeds represent divine wisdom or spiritual insights. They represent teachings of Jesus such as: Love God and love others as yourself, care for people in need, forgive those who have wronged you, be merciful, seek justice, work for peace.

Then the parable seems to urge us to ponder the four terrains on which the seeds fell – hard path, gravel, thorns, and good soil. How might we unpack each of these?

We know that the seeds that fell on the path had little chance of making it. The seeds simply sat on the hard surface until some bird gliding by spotted them and decided they would make a tasty lunch. The parable suggests that we should not be like the impenetrable path, where God’s word never enters our heart or seeps into our soul? Indeed, if your faith is superficial, never making demands on you, never challenging you, never bolstering your courage to do something difficult, it will not last. You will wake up one day with the somber realization that your faith has vanished like the mist on a sunny day because it never became the core around which you built your life.

Neither should you be like the gravel, where your faith bursts onto the scene and your enthusiasm is evident, but your dedication lacks depth. When a loved one dies or you receive a bad pathology report or you lose your job or your child loses his way – life is rocky, and it may become tempting to give up on God. Some have been taught that if your faith is strong enough, God will smooth your path. That’s not what Jesus taught. He said that if you follow him, some will turn on you. If you follow him, you will need to swim against cultural currents. He promised, not a rock free life, but a rich life. Not a successful life, but a rewarding life. However, our faith must have depth for us to persevere when the sky turns threatening.

The third warning is not to allow your faith to be strangled by thorns. This is the caution that stood out in bold print to me because it seems like today there are so many thorns threatening to choke us. One of the lethal thorns in our country is the resurgence of white supremacy groups such as the Proud Boys, the Patriotic Front, and the Klan. Homeland Security names such groups as “the greatest domestic threat facing the United States.”1

These groups are racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and homophobic. You remember the torch-bearing rioters who marched in Charlottesville. Three neo-Nazis armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from Congregation Beth Israel while congregants gathered for worship. Several groups of white supremacists marched pass their building shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Seig Heil’ and anti-Semitic slurs.

“Members of the white nationalist movement hope to convince white Americans that they are persecuted by ‘anti-white’ ideas and policies, such as the adoption of inclusive education in public schools…They vilify immigrants, demonize queer and transgender people, and embrace racist concepts like the great replacement theory.”2

These racist ideologies have always been held by a segment of Americans. What’s distressing is that they seem to be on the rise; and with the White Christian Nationalist movement, such thinking is penetrating some churches. Spiritual wisdom and biblical values are being choked by vicious thorns.

While it is important to recognize the three warnings regarding what can diminish or destroy our faith – hard path, gravel, and thorns – we risk overlooking the primary thrust of this parable. Remember, it is not the Parable of the Four Terrains, but rather the Parable of the Sower. Primarily, it is a parable about the nature of God and God’s lavish generosity.

Picture the portrait of the sower that Jesus paints. The sower goes out to sow seeds. Does he toss the seeds only on the ground that holds the best potential? Not at all. He flings them all over the place! A colleague says, “Imagine it – a sower blissfully walking across the fields and meadows, the back alleys and sidewalks, the playgrounds and parking lots of this world, with fistfuls of seeds”3 tossing them in every direction.

And what is the result of this lavish generosity? To understand the parable’s climax, we must understand what the initial audience knew: the size of an average crop in first century Palestine. At that time, the average harvest would yield about sevenfold. A tenfold yield was considered exceptional. But Jesus, says that the harvest yields not sevenfold, not tenfold, but thirtyfold, sixtyfold, one hundredfold! A harvest beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful if all churches became known for their lavish generosity?

In this time of bitter political divides, rising white Christian nationalism, violence, greed, discrimination – the list is long – what does the world need more than a church that spreads love, not hate; truth, not lies; kindness, not venom; hope, not fear?

Rocky Supinger is one of the ministers at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He tells of a woman he knows named Sarah Cunningham who lives in his city. When Sarah’s son was a teenager, he told her he was gay. It was the truth of who he was and he did not want to try to hide it from her. She told him she loved him and that’s all that mattered.

But having a gay son made her more aware of how hard these conversations can be in some families. So, in 2015, Sarah attended a Pride festival in Chicago and she wore a homemade button that read, “Free Mom Hugs.” She stood on the street with her arms out offering anyone a hug who wanted one. It turned out that there were scores of people who wanted a hug. One young woman told her that her own mom had not hugged her in four years.

“Free Mom Hugs” went from being a button to being an organization. In 2018, Sarah posted on Facebook: “If you need a mom to attend your same-sex wedding because your biological mom won’t be there, call me. I’ll be there and I’ll be your biggest fan. I’ll even bring the bubbles.” People took her seriously and she found herself standing with people at their weddings. The demand became so great that she could not keep up with it, so she recruited other moms to join her.

Lavish generosity. Flinging seeds of love and kindness all over the place. If there is anything our world needs today, it’s more sowers of seeds. Might I offer your name?



  1. Eileen Sullivan and Katie Benner, “Top law enforcement officials say the biggest domestic terror threat comes from white supremacists,” The New York Times, June 15, 2021
  2. The Southern Poverty Law Center
  3. Debie Thomas, “The Extravagant Sower,” July 5, 2020.
  4. Rocky Supinger, “Sermon,” June 25, 2023.