The Sower, the Seed, and the World
In Matthew 12, Jesus and the disciples experienced events that had to be bitterly disappointing. Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute and the Pharisees said “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (12:24). A little later, they came to him and said “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you” (12:38). But they had just seen a sign; what could possibly satisfy them?
In Matthew 13, Jesus tells parables that explain how such things happen. In the parable of sower, Jesus compares the kingdom to a farmer who sows good seed and gets varied results. The seed, Jesus says, is “the word of the kingdom” (13:19). But he also says “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it” (13:23; emphasis mine). That is, the seed is both the word and the believer who receives the word.
Jesus says the same thing in the second parable, the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Jesus is again a sower with good seed. This time the seed takes root and begins to grow, but an enemy sneaks into the fields, plants weeds, and leaves (13:24-25). The master sees the hand of his enemy.
When the disciples ask Jesus to explain the parable, he identifies and explains three features. First, "The one who sows good seed is the Son of Man" (13:36-37). Second, "the field is the world" (13:19, 38). Third, "the good seed is the sons of the kingdom." (13:38).. Earlier, we read that the good seed represents the believer. It “is the one who… understands” (13:23). Here if the good seed “is” the sons of the kingdom and the sower scatters the seed, then he scatters us through the world. We are the seed that grows
In one sense, believers take Jesus’ truth with us, wherever we go. But in another sense, Jesus says, we are his truth. Whenever we show the strength and wisdom of Jesus, we are his seed.
Let’s illustrate this. One Christian works with wood. His shop is in a middling neighborhood. Two fatherless boys live nearby. They are the kind of boys who throw rocks at dogs and windows, but he invites them into his shop. On Saturday mornings. He teaches them to work and to heed authority. His life is a seed of the kingdom.
A woman has an eye for people who need a word of encouragement. She stops her friends on her daily walks. She calls some on the phone. Others receives letters in the mail and many reach her prayer list.
Disciples also become the seed of the kingdom when they express their faith at work. J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy never mentions God, but his faith informed every page. His characters breathe out loyalty, courage, duty, hope, love teamwork, and sacrifice. And Tolkein’s novels are more than morality plays. Each hero of the story – Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Bilbo – is willing to give up his life for others, and in limited ways, they do so. Thus they portray the work of Jesus in subtle, winsome ways. So Tolkein was a seed of the kingdom.
We can also reflect on the image of the kingdom coming like a seed. A seed is superficially weak, even as it holds great power. As Jesus says, it is easily ignored or thwarted. Seeds are gentle and quiet; they don’t rely on brute force.
At times, Christian leaders have forgotten this. Charlemagne, for example, sometimes tried to impose the Christian faith on people he conquered. At times, he vanquished an army, backed its soldiers against a river, and asked them if they would like the water by baptism or the water of drowning. Historians say this was a phase, not a permanent policy. We give thanks for that, for it is wrong to kill defenseless men. It is also wrong to attempt to compel people to convert. Jesus comes the coming of the kingdom to a seed, not a sword. The gospel never truly advances by force. We can compel people to act a certain way – to have water poured on their heads. But no one can force another person to believe anything. Force never changes the heart. The Lord persuades gently. The Bible insists on its authority, but its appeal is gentle. It comes like a seed, like a word, like a beautiful life. A beautiful is a mighty thing, yet easily reinterpreted, misinterpreted and rejected, much like a seed falling to the ground. We may wish the word came like a hammer, but Jesus does not say that. Let us accept God’s decision to send his word and his people as seeds that yield the fruit he intends.
Dan Doriani teaches Theology and Ethics at Covenant Seminary. He earned his M.Div. from Westminster and talked everyone into a joint Yale/Westminster Ph.D. He also pastored a very small church for five years and a very large one for eleven. He plays tennis, hikes mountains, wrangles grandchildren, speaks at conferences, and writes books. His most recent is Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation.