One of William Barclay's friends tells this story. [William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, CD-ROM edition (Liguori, MO: Liguori Faithware, 1996)]
In the Church where he worshiped, there was a lonely old man, old Thomas. As he had outlived all his friends, hardly anyone knew him. When Thomas died, his only old friend had the feeling that there would be no one else to go to the funeral. So, he decided to go, so that there might be someone to follow the old man to his last resting-place. There was no one else, and it was a miserable wet day. The funeral reached the cemetery, and at the gate there was a soldier waiting, an officer, but on his raincoat there were no rank badges. He came to the graveside for the religious ceremony. When the pastor finished his prayers, the officer stepped forward and gave a solemn military salute to Thomas in the closed coffin as if to a dead king. The friend walked away with this soldier, and as they walked, the wind blew the soldier's raincoat open to reveal the shoulder badges of a brigadier general. The general said, "You will perhaps be wondering what I am doing here. Years ago Thomas was my Sunday school teacher. I was a wild lad and a sore trial to him. He never knew what he did for me, but I owe everything I am or will be to old Thomas, and today I had to come to salute him at the end."
The word “parable” comes from the Greek word parabole, which means putting two things side by side in order to confront or compare them. This is exactly how Jesus uses parables: He places a simile from life or nature against the abstract idea of the Kingdom of God.
The parable of the Sower was intended for the frustrated Apostles. They were upset and discouraged because they realized that their master was facing opposition and hostility from the scribes, Pharisees and priests. The synagogues refused to admit him to preach, so Jesus had to go to beaches and hillsides. Some of the Pharisees were planning to trap him, and the common people were more interested in his ability to heal them than in his preaching. Using the parable of the sower in today’s Gospel, Jesus assured his confused disciples that the “Good News” he preached would produce the intended effect in spite of opposition and controversy.
The early Christian communities experienced similar adverse reactions to the Gospel. Even today, we face the same experience our world of secularism, consumerism, and agnosticism.
Jesus assures us that the Good News is that God’s word will be fruitful. We should continue to sow the word of God amidst the undesirable conditions of our world today, confident that it will bear fruit.