The Meaning of Seeds

May 31 2007 | by

HOW CAN one explain complicated spiritual ideas to an uneducated audience? One should never assume that they are ignorant. It is sometimes the simplest souls who are able to intuit deep spiritual truths in ways that others cannot. They will be able to understand these truths if one can find a way to explain them that reflects those areas of life with which they are familiar.

This is why Jesus used seeds to speak of spiritual things, especially faith. His contemporaries were familiar with seeds. They depended on them for their survival for theirs was an agricultural society.

The hundred fold

One of Jesus’ parables about seeds concerns seed thrown along the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and on good ground. These seeds represent the Word of God, and each of the places it is thrown represents either a fruitful or an unfruitful environment.

The parable is actually an explanation of the command to love God with one’s heart, soul and strength. The rabbis explained that to love God with one’s heart meant to love God with one’s intellect (for in the Bible, the heart is where one thinks). Those who did not love the Lord with one’s intellect are like the seed that is thrown on the path which is quickly eaten by birds for it is never interiorized.

Loving the Lord with one’s soul is to love the Lord during periods of persecution, or until they rip one’s soul right out of one’s body. Those who don’t love the Lord with their souls are like the seed that is thrown on rocky ground for it is lost in times of persecution.

Finally, to love the Lord with all one’s strength means to love the Lord with one’s possessions. God must be more important than that which we own. Those who do not love the Lord with their strength are like the seed that is thrown among the thorns which represents being distracted by worldly anxieties and the love of riches.

The seed that falls on good ground represents those who are ready to embrace the Word of God. God’s Word produces a bountiful harvest in the hearts of those who are open to God’s will.


The Mustard Seed

Another parable speaks of the dawning of the Kingdom of God being like mustard seeds. Jesus explains that the kingdom begins in small ways and only gradually comes to full maturity. This parable answers why it seems to take so long for God’s truth to be victorious. It grows gradually and we should be patient.

This means that we should be able to see the dawning of the kingdom in every good deed, every prayer, every surrender to God’s will. It will take a long time to come to its fruition, but in the meantime it is already dawning.

There is a small difficulty with this particular parable. Jesus states that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds, but actually it is not. The Gospel truth of the Gospels is that of faith and morals, not botanical information. One could even argue that Jesus was speaking to his audience in a way that they would have understood, or possibly that he simply did not know that the mustard seed was not the smallest of seeds (for Jesus did surrender many of his divine prerogatives when he took on our flesh as we see in Philippians 2).

Another parable speaks of how the seed grows. The farmer plants the seed, but he does not really understand how the seed produces the blade, then the ear, and then the full grain in the ear.

Jesus was telling his listeners that we cannot fully understand how our faith life develops. Faith is a gift from God. We cannot force God’s hand. He will give us this gift when it is best for us (in God’s time, not our time). We can prepare our hearts to embrace God’s life when it is given to us, but it is God who is in charge.

St. John of the Cross wrote about this in The Dark Night of the Soul. Many people interpret the ‘dark night’ as a time of depression, but that is a misunderstanding of St. John of the Cross’ word ‘oscura’. While this word is most often translated as ‘dark’, it is really better translated as ‘hidden’. What St. John was writing about was the way that God works in hidden, unexpected ways.

We can go along for quite some time, not understanding how our faith calls us to certain courses of action. Then, all of a sudden, it is completely clear. We regret what we did or did not do before, but maybe we were not ready yet. When God wills it, we receive the needed insight. At that point, while it is okay to regret our past failures, we should not let these paralyze us. Our duty is to apply our new found insights and live in the truth from then on.

Bad seed

Another parable is the story about the farmer who sows good seed. Yet, when the good seed sprouts, weeds are growing among the wheat. The farmer’s servants are sure that an enemy planted the weeds during the night, and they wonder whether it might be necessary to pull up the weeds.

The farmer counsels against this, lest the good plants be pulled up along with the weeds. He tells the servants to wait until the harvest when they can easily separate good from bad.

This addresses the question of why God allows bad people to exist. Why doesn’t God just wipe them out and get it over with. But God gives us all time. Who knows if some of the ‘bad seed’ might not convert and turn to the Lord. God is patient (but not indifferent).

One of Jesus’ most profound statements about seeds is that which refers to his willingness to die out of love for us, and our call to die to ourselves out of love for him. This is called a Gospel irony, for in worldly logic it makes no sense that one has to die in order to live. But the seed has to be planted in the ground and cease to exist as a seed in order to grow as a plant. Likewise, if we want to live in Christ, we have to die to ourselves. This is what St. Paul speaks about when he speaks of being crucified to this world so that we might live in Christ.

This idea of the seed having to die is also found in Psalm 126. There the psalmist speaks of those “who sow in tears and who will reap with cries of joy”.

It is likely that there was a type of mourning ritual performed as one planted seeds. One was mourning their ‘death’ as they were being ‘buried’. But then one would celebrate when the harvest came in.

This is also true in our spiritual life. When we die to ourselves, there is a certain amount of sacrifice and discomfort. There might even be tears as we struggle to let go of those things that bind us. But when we find freedom, when we let go of our sins and possessions and passions, we find true joy.

Reaping what one sows

Finally, Saint Paul also uses imagery of sowing seed when he speaks of the donations he is asking the Corinthian community to make toward the poor in the Church, especially the poor of Jerusalem. While Paul acknowledges that one should not impoverish oneself in giving charity, one should nevertheless share one’s surplus. Furthermore, one should be generous in what one gives, whether it be money or time or talent.

Paul also gives a wise piece of advice. One’s giving should not be accompanied by a grudging attitude, as if one is annoyed by what one has to give. One should view one’s charity as a privilege for God has allowed us to share in his work of making this world a better place.

The next time that we plant our garden or farm, we might reflect upon some of these images of faith and the kingdom and generosity so that our harvest might be one hundred fold.

Updated on October 06 2016