That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’
Translation: On that day, Jesus went out of the house (and) was sitting alongside the sea, and great crowds were gathered together to him so that he entered into a ship to sit down and all the people stood upon the shore. And he spoke much to them in parables, saying, "Behold! The sowing one went out to sow. And as he sowed, some indeed fell beside the way, and the birds came to eat them. But others fell upon stony places where they were not having much soil, and immediately they sprung up because they did not have depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched and, because they did not have a root, they were withered. But others fell among the thorns, and the thorns climbed up and choked them. But others fell upon the good earth, and they were giving fruit, some indeed a hundredfold, but some sixty, but some thirty. The one having ears, let that one hear."
Background and situation: Father Robert Capon says that the parable of the sower is the touchstone of all the parables. He notes its primacy of place in all three synoptics. Even the gnostic Gospel of Thomas includes the parable of the sower.
In Matthew, the parable of the sower is the first of a string of parables that follow one after another in chapter 13. The parable of the sower sets the stage for all the parables that follow.
The lection begins with Jesus leaving the house. He "goes out" to the sea just as the sower would soon "go out" to sow. This would apparently be his own house, and the same one where he had just refused entrance to his own relatives (12: 46-48).
At the sea, "great crowds" flock around Jesus. The word is sunago, and means that the people "gathered together" around Jesus. He is at the center of the people. This is not surprising. Jesus had significant support in the region of the Sea of Galilee. The people loved Jesus and thrilled to his message. He is presented as a "man of the people."
Then, he gets into a boat. The stated reason is that Jesus needs a place to sit--he needs to sit in order to assume the posture of a teacher. This gives Jesus a bit of distance from the crowd which continues to stand on the beach. Matthew has moved Jesus from being "man of the people" to being "authoritative teacher."
What a deft piece of political theater. Jesus is sitting in a fishing boat, which is, quite literally, on the sea. In a sense, Jesus is speaking to and for all the people who try to make a living from the Sea of Galilee. (It's not for nothing that fishermen were some of Jesus' first supporters.)
Jesus may have had a home at Capernaum, perhaps the most important harbor city on the entire Sea of Galilee, which also made it an important communications center for the region. He also traveled to many other towns and villages that lie on the sea, including Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene, his frequent companion.