A sower went out to sow. (Matthew 13:3)
Through Isaiah God explains the success of His word by comparing it to the success of rain and snow in watering seed upon the earth. He then promises, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (55:11). Though this chapter in Isaiah presents a different illustration than that in Sunday’s Gospel, yet both are illustrating the Word of God. In Isaiah we realize the certainty that God’s Word will always succeed. In Sunday’s Gospel, it appears as though the Word of God fails!
As we realize the Gospel is the best news the world will ever get, it is often discouraging when that Gospel is frequently ignored, rejected or even actively opposed. Sadly some will not even listen to the Gospel, having rejected the Christian faith without even knowing what it is about. It is perhaps even more disheartening to see young people joyfully speaking their vows of fidelity in the Rite of Confirmation, only to find them rejecting the faith later in life. It is equally discouraging to observe an adult brought to faith and baptized, only to have a major problem in their congregation prompt them to say, “If this is what Christianity is about, I don’t want any part of it.”
Though laity are privileged to share the Gospel, and most who have shared the Gospel with family and friends will at some point experience some discouragement, yet pastors are uniquely discouraged when at times the work of their calling seems all for naught. We are not speaking of those few pastors who fail to faithfully scatter the seed of the Gospel. We speak of the many pastors who generously scatter the seed—both conscientious missionaries and pastors of congregations—but they do not see growth, and in fact some see numbers decreasing. One temptation is to make the Gospel conform to the culture, but this is futile and in fact harmful to the work of the kingdom.
It is also tempting to believe the Gospel has lost its power, or that perhaps the statement in Isaiah’s prophecy—that the Word will always accomplish that for which God sent it—is misleading. Neither of these is true. On the soil of the heart that has been pulverized and plowed by God’s Law, the Gospel remains the power of God unto salvation, and truly it will always accomplish that for which God sent it. Those predestined in Christ to salvation will indeed be called to believe the Gospel (Rom 8:29,30).
In Sunday’s parable Jesus reminds us that anyone who scatters the seed of the Gospel must remember the great evil of this world. Even as the cross is at the heart of the Gospel, so too the cross of Jesus starkly reminds us of the destructive schemes of the devil, the world and our flesh. In His death Jesus had to first absorb the destructive designs of these tempters, so the Gospel could be created and then so it could have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of God’s people. This evil trio—devil, world and sinful flesh—wants nothing more than to destroy both the germination and the fruit-bearing of the Gospel.
Recall that it is God’s Gospel, it is God’s church and it is God who performs conversion. St. Paul, using a seed illustration to describe the proclamation of the Gospel, succinctly reminds us of this reality: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Co 3:6). So Pastors, teachers, parents and all others who are called upon to scatter the seed of the Gospel, do not be discouraged. Evil may appear to dominate, but it has been defeated; the Word of the Cross remains the power of God unto salvation. Keep scattering.