If you grew up in church, you probably heard the Parable of the Sower about a thousand times. I’ve heard it at least that many. It’s especially popular in children’s lessons, because it’s a nice friendly story about a farmer, seeds, and soil. It’s straightforward, and Jesus even explains it to us via the disciples. God’s word doesn’t always grow where it lands. But if we receive it like good soil, if we tend to God’s word, it will flourish and multiply.
But recently something jumped out at me in the Gospel of Luke.
In Luke’s telling of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus has just been anointed by the “sinful woman”, lectured the religious leaders, forgiven her sins, and told her to go in peace.
The next thing Luke writes is, “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 8:1) Luke lists who was traveling with Jesus at this point, The Twelve, and some women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and many others. Luke also mentions that these women were the financial support for Jesus and The Twelve, using their own personal money.
This is the backdrop for the Parable of the Sower in Luke, who then writes:
“While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed…” (Luke 8:4)
You probably know the rest.
The farmer scatters seeds, and they land in various places with various results. Then Jesus explains to his disciples what the parable means.
But, why is Jesus telling the disciples this story? They’re being surrounded by crowds who are excited to hear Jesus teach, and to benefit from whatever healings or miracles might be happening. But the reality is that most of this crowd isn’t going to stick it out. They aren’t going to walk away from their former lives for the long term. Some will stop listening immediately. Others are going to believe, and follow Jesus until the going gets tough. Some will just prefer other things, or turn away to deal with the worries of life.
This is true even among the disciples. We know that Judas will cave to his personal desires, and turn Jesus over to the authorities. Peter will crack under pressure and deny even knowing Jesus. Others will go into hiding when things look bleak or dangerous. Even Jesus’ own disciples will struggle to be good soil, to retain God’s word and persevere. Ultimately, most of them come around, but it’s not smooth sailing for all them.
However, remember who is included in this crowd hearing the parable…
“The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” (Luke 8:1b-3)
And, according to Luke, when the others have gone away, who is with Jesus at the cross?
“When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (Luke 23:48-49)
The women who were with him, listening to this parable, they were there when the going got tough. They stayed, when others fled. They let the word of God take root in their hearts, they tended it, and they persevered.
And according to Luke, who tended to the body of Jesus and went to the tomb?
“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” (Luke 23:55-56)
The women who were with him, listening to the Parable of the Sower, went and found out where his body was, so they could care for him, even in death. They even planned ahead so they could observe the Sabbath as commanded.
And according to Luke, who were the first witnesses to the resurrection?
“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!
It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.” (Luke 24:2-6, 10)
Mary Magdalene and Joanna are specifically named by Luke as being among the women traveling with Jesus from Galilee when he tells them the Parable of the Sower. And Luke is clear that there are other women there too.
These women didn’t fall away. They traveled with Jesus from Galilee all the way to the cross. They supported him out of their own means. They cared for him in life and in death. They prepared spices for his body. They tended to God’s word in their hearts. And they were the first to hear the proclamation straight from heaven that Jesus had overcome death. They told the remaining eleven disciples, Judas being now dead. They are the first witnesses. And 2,000 years later, we are still reading of their witness.
“Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” (Luke 8:8)
The women were Good Soil.