That very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
Again Jesus began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:
"Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold." And he said, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"
When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that 'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’"
And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, an it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."
God's grace is present in our lives, being realised in ways that we struggle to understand. The parable of the Sower links the mysterious working of grace both to the inner life-force of the seed (the Word of God) and to the potential of the soil – whether rocky, shallow or naturally arable. But of course free choice comes into it too. Since God has breathed his own Spirit into us, we human beings are no longer inanimate clods of earth, and are more like malleable clay for the divine potter to form. Somehow, our free response to God's grace makes us both arable and mouldable!
In Our Lord's interpretation of the Sower parable come some of the most difficult words of Holy Scripture, "They will look and not see, listen and not understand, lest perhaps they repent and be forgiven" (quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10.) But the passage ends with hope — for the trunk of the oak remains even when its leaves have fallen. The gospel assures us that hope will blossom in its time; but it insists on the human factor too, the condition of the soil, dealing with the thorns, rocks and obstacles to growth. We are not to wait passively and do nothing, simply waiting for God brings all to fulfillment. While life is often beyond our control and eventually we must leave all to God, we are still expected to be faithful through difficult times. Salvation is the interaction of God's mystery and our dedication. We must achieve what is humanly possible, and then in the end we can say, like Paul, "I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, God made it grow" (1 Cor 3:6.)
The parable of the sower was probably spoken by Jesus as an encouraging word to his disciples. As Mark has been telling the story of Jesus' public ministry prior to Jesus speaking this parable, Jesus and his disciples have been encountering many difficulties and obstacles. The religious leaders have accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the Sabbath; they have claimed that Jesus heals by the power of Satan. Jesus' own relatives have tried to take him in hand because of the general impression that he has lost the run of himself. In that context Jesus draws the attention of the disciples to the farmer sowing seed in Galilee. The farmer has to deal with all kinds of obstacles, with the result that much of the seed that he sows never takes root, or if it does it never reaches maturity. Yet, in spite of obstacles and setbacks, the harvest is great. Jesus is saying, look beyond the obstacles, the set-backs, the disappointments; God is at work in my ministry and the harvest will be great in the end. We can all become absorbed by what is not going well, by the failures, the losses all around us. The parable encourages us to keep hopeful in the midst of loss and failure, because the Lord is always a work in a life-giving way even when failure and loss seem to dominate the landscape.