Seeds of Communion: The Parable of the Sower: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Seeds of Communion: The Parable of the Sower: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Year A, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 16, 2023

Year A: Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 

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Over these coming weeks, our Gospel readings are drawn from what is often called the “parable chapter,” a collection of Jesus’ teachings in Chapter 13 of Matthew.

These parables stand as a source of key teachings by Jesus, making them a significant part of the Christian faith. With their deeply symbolic representations, they are simultaneously simple and complex stories that encompass wide-ranging aspects of the kingdom of heaven, God’s compassion, and the ultimate journey of a Christian’s spiritual growth.

Today’s parable, the Parable of the Sower, is considered the turning point1 of all Jesus’ parables because it lays out fundamental themes that permeate Jesus’ teachings: the spread of the Kingdom of God, human response to divine revelation, and spiritual growth. It’s one of the few parables that Jesus explicitly interprets for his disciples- it offers a blueprint for understanding his other parables.

This parable is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.2 Each Gospel provides a slightly different perspective on the parable. Still, all of them maintain the core meaning – the teaching of Jesus about the different responses to the message of the Kingdom of God. In Matthew’s version, the parable describes varied human responses to God’s Word, represented by different types of soil.

A book that profoundly influenced me in seminary was “Being As Communion,” written by John Zizioulas, a prominent Eastern Orthodox theologian. It presents a powerful theological model where individuality and communion are integrally linked. A person is not to exist in isolation but in relationality and love. Our relationship with God is not about individualism but about recognizing our connectedness and dependence upon God and one another.

The connection I find between Zizioulas’ work and the Parable of the Sower is that both emphasize the importance of our responses to the divine and how they shape our connections with God and others.

Many interpretations of today’s parable might seem to reinforce the notion of individualism. How often have you heard this familiar parable and wondered immediately, “What kind of soil am I? How fruitfully have I cultivated the Word? How thorny or rocky have I let myself become? What if we replace the pronoun “I” with “we?”

We often struggle to live into our connectedness with other people and God. Longstanding notions of individualism have created a divide in our community fabric and even in our churches. We’re so accustomed to the thought of determining our own fate that we seem to have lost a sense of life lived in communion with each other. In May the Surgeon General of the United States released an advisory calling attention to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and a lack of connection in our country. Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately half of U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. Lacking connection can increase the risk of premature death to levels comparable to smoking daily.3

Thus, one of the great social and spiritual challenges of our time is to reclaim a sense of community with and for one another.

It is in this context that the Parable of the Sower takes on special significance because it speaks of the Word of God as seed, Jesus, falling in various kinds of ground – pathways, rocky ground, thorns, and good soil – yielding different results based on the receptivity of the ground.

We could interpret the seeds as individuals. But Zizioulas would likely point out that seeds do not exist in isolation but in relationship with the ground, the environment that supports or hinders their growth. The seed that falls on good soil and brings forth grain does so not just for its own fulfillment but for the nourishment of others—it exists in communion.

Over time, parables can and should take on new meanings and understandings. Their rich symbolism and allegory allow them to be interpreted in various circumstances and periods.

For example, on Wednesday afternoons, we’re discussing the book “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment” by Robert Farrar Capon. We just recently discussed the Parable of the Sower and talked about the various places where seeds fall.

We considered how climate change has affected our planet so much that there may be places where seeds cannot take root. A modern interpretation of the Parable of the Sower encourages us to consider responses to climate change and provides an opportunity for reflection on environmental stewardship.

The effects of climate change are abundantly apparent. Last weekend, in Plymouth, Vermont, where Marty and I spent many summers on church retreats, more than nine inches of rain fell in 24 hours, resulting in rock and mudslides, closing all roads in and out of the area. It was the second once-in-a-thousand-year storm in eleven years. Near Washington’s Crossing,  north of Philadelphia, named for the place where George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River, 5 inches of rain fell in two hours last night. Five people are confirmed dead, and two children are missing in the resulting flash flood.

The stark weather patterns we’ve seen in Vermont and New Jersey, throughout the country, and around the world, serve as a real-life illustration of the lessons embedded in the Parable of the Sower.

Just as the Sower spreads seeds in different types of soil, humans sow their actions in the world. Some actions, like seeds grown in good soil, can lead to a fruitful sustainable relationship with nature. However, actions that neglect environmental stewardship or relationship with one another, result in harm. The Parable of the Sower calls us to heed the lessons of the parable and strive to sow seeds in good soil, to act with wisdom and compassion in tending to the earth and one another.

It’s time to think about how we are called to be good soil, open and receptive to God’s word, cultivating it for the flourishing of the wider community.

This past week, Joy Bauserman, Bill Scott, and I spent three days in communion with 1000 Episcopalians from every diocese in The Episcopal Church. For context, there are 112 dioceses throughout the US and other countries. I know that I found it an exciting time of renewal and revival. It certainly sowed seeds of God’s love. Please talk to us about it.

I was so excited I shared the videos of the daily morning and evening worship on a Facebook page whose mission statement is to create a network for churches to do God’s work, promote prayer, and spread the Good News. The sole response: a pastor wrote that this movement is not of Jesus but something else.

Well, folks, what I saw at work this past week was the work of Jesus and the seeds being sown. And, believe me, those seeds are sown even when others question or try to invalidate our faith.

And rather than get into a flame war with someone I don’t know, I recall the words of Presiding Bishop Curry – “it’s not about love it’s not about Jesus.” And I’m reminded that Christianity is not about conforming to the expectations of what others think it is, but about following Jesus’ teachings and example of love, mercy, and justice. That’s what we’re called to do – follow Jesus in love.

This parable reminds us that the good news is that God’s limitless love and grace are available to us all. At times, we may refuse to hear the Word; at other times, we may reject what we hear.

The gift is realizing that we are never alone in the Kingdom of God. That gift is immeasurable. Every person, creature, and plant that springs up from the soil will all be harvested. This connectedness is a testament to Christ’s immense love and the incredible value God places on all creation. No matter how small or insignificant we may feel, the seeds are sown in each of us, and we all have a place in this world.


  1. Cf. Robert Farrar Capon, “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), p. 57where this parable is described as a “watershed moment”. 
  2. Matthew, 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15
  3. “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The US Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community -2023”, July 15, 2023)