On the day that this morning’s gospel (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) takes place, Jesus had been busy. He had healed the sick and the lame, faced challenges from both the scribes and Pharisees and had seemed to distance himself from his own family. A sketch of the day leading up to this morning’s gospel follows.

At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’…Jesus defended them.

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man with a withered hand was there, and they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?’ so that they might accuse him…he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and it was restored... But the Pharisees conspired ...how to destroy him.

Jesus … departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them…Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. All the crowds were amazed and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons… You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil?

… While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, ... Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’


The mixed acceptance, rejection and disassociation from his own family that had transpired during the day sets up the parable that he tells in this morning’s gospel.

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables,

The ‘entertainment’ value of the cures was not the only thing that the crowds found attractive about Jesus. He was also a spell-binding story-teller, using familiar experiences to shape new perspectives, drawing people into his way of thinking and relating his teaching to the experiences of their own lives.

Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’

The people could visualize the sower, with the birds, the rocks, thorns, scorching sun thwarting the sower’s purpose, but also understand that enough seed would take root and produce a bountiful harvest.

Then with a nod to the scribes and Pharisees, and perhaps those who were only interested in being entertained he explained the parable.

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

Jesus wanted to be clear. He knew that some would reject the good news outright. Others would find it momentarily interesting but not commit to it. Others might adopt it until they face challenges. Some would probably accept it then become distracted by their appetites. But some would hear the word and understand it and become productive.

At the beginning of this section Jesus used the phrase what is sown in the heart. The heart conveys both the intellectual as well as the emotional engagement. Taking in the word with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind (Matt 22:37)…  a full-bodied embrace…. is what Jesus sought.


  • Where has ‘the seed’ fallen in your life? (If you have taken the time to read this far it probably fell on fertile ground…but it may not have always been so.)
  • The detail that Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach is intriguing. Imagine the crowd of men, women, some carrying children, crowding around. Had they followed from the synagogue earlier, or did they just happen to be by the shore? Were some of the people, whom Jesus had healed earlier, in the crowd? Had others, who had been following Jesus, beckon bystanders to follow? Did Jesus know the boat owners beforehand or had he just encountered them? Did they let him use their boat because they wanted this association with him? What was it that the crowd saw or heard from Jesus that made them want to gather around?
  • While Jesus probably loved and appreciated the people who listened attentively to his words, did he also regret the absence of the scribes and Pharisees?