I think the parable of the sower is often misunderstood, much due to the fact that we are farther and farther from an agricultural society. We’ve spent so many sermons hearing and telling potential disciples that the sower is about becoming a believer. It encompasses that I believe, but the scope is grander than that.
It begins by asking, why does the Sower sow? It’s simple, but the hinge of the whole parable. When a gardener or a farmer plants a seed, what is he or she hoping for? If they plant a tomato seed, are they hoping for a tomato plant? Yes, but that’s not really it, is it? In a natural non-GMO world, wouldn’t the gardener want a tomato plant that also produced tomato viable seed? Of course.
But even that is not it. Would a gardener be grateful for a plot of tomato plants that produced a thousand such seeds, but . . . without one tomato? In fact wouldn’t the seeds be by definition, not viable, since they are all likely to produce more plants with no fruit?
The fruit is the point of the whole exercise. And it’s the key difference between the four categories in the parable. Only one group produces a plant that bears fruit. Now, with something like wheat, the fruit and seed are the same object, but they are different concepts. One is valuable for reproduction: one is for food value.
We get all wrapped up in the seed = the word; the word = the Messiah. But the point of the sowing is the fruit. And what is fruit? It is the goodness, the desirability which contains the seed. See the point of God’s sowing the word in our heart is not to produce just more of the word, he’s not trying to make a bunch of preachers. What he’s growing is a garden of good and desirable things that “happen” to come from and hold within themselves the word. The same word that can then implant in someone’s heart to reproduce Messiah again in the fruit of another person’s life.
It seems to that the mere transfer of information is not the point. It is the package deal that is sought. God is making people desirable by the change in their lives. The bitter man who becomes a forgiver. The betrayed woman who finds love for her betrayer. The person who gives when others grow weary. When these people are met, getting to know them, the world will find within them the Messiah, but they ask about that seed because of the way they live because of their sweetness.
We need to get away from this meaningless debate about who has gone through a ritual to be born again. God doesn’t seem to care who is born again, nearly as much as he cares about who produces fruit. And we definitely need to get away from the heresy that says good works are just the lucky fallout of a relationship. Changed lives is the only point of redemption. Even in the passage (John 3) that introduces the concept of being born again, being born again is not the goal: the goal is to see and to enter the kingdom. The kingdom is the goal, and what is the kingdom like?
It is like a sower who went out to sow . . .