Having grown up on a farm and spent long days in the fields, I have always resonated with the images of fields and crops in Jesus’ parables. As a boy I watched my father plow, fertilize, and plant the fields in the spring; monitor and pray for them throughout the summer; and harvest them in the fall. Some years the harvest was thin; other years the barn and silo were overflowing. How my father prepared the soil—picking stones off the fields each spring, tilling the soil to prepare for seeding, weeding the land to keep the crops from being choked out—contributed to the crop yields. I remember driving through the country and seeing fields not cared for by farmers: weeds growing among the wheat, the cornstalks stunted.
Jesus often used parables about crops and farming to teach his disciples and others about the Kingdom of Heaven and being a Christian. In Matthew 13:3-9 Jesus uses an image of a farmer planting seeds:
“A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
Later in the chapter, Jesus changes the focus of his parable. He explains what each type of seed represents, but what is truly remarkable is how he shifts attention from the sower of the seeds to the field. This shift drove his point home with his audience, who, of course, were receiving his message as he spoke.
Jesus was a great teacher. This parable is structured to get the audience’s attention first without confronting them directly: Everyone could picture a farmer sowing. The second half of the parable gets planted directly in the listeners. Jesus wasn’t just telling them to be sowers. He was asking them to examine their own hearts to see what kind of soil existed within them and to scrutinize their own crops.
My wife and I recently returned from a trip to Europe. One of the countries we visited was the Netherlands, our parents’ home country. My parents were both farmers, and we had an opportunity to visit the farms where they grew up before immigrating to Canada after World War II. Farming goes back generations in my family. In fact, “DeBoer,” my last name, means “the farmer” in Dutch.
Perhaps it is for this reason that, during our visit to the van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, the two works of art where we lingered the longest were “The Sower” and “The Digger”. Vincent van Gogh focused many of his works on simple peasant people, their backs stooped, busy at the work in front of them. These are the images I envision when I read Jesus’ parable of the sower. We are called to be both sowers and receivers of God’s seeds throughout our lives. God bless you in your life as both farmer and field!
Ron DeBoer is a writer and educator living near Toronto, Ontario.