Luke 8: 1 – 15 The parable of the sower
After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. 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. 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. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.’
When he said this, he called out, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
‘”though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.”
‘This is the meaning of the parable: the seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.’
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The parable of the sower describes what happens to good seed when it is sown into a typical plot of land in first century Judea. It’s not immediately obvious what the story means, and the disciples asked Jesus to explain it. He did so, and he also explained why the story wasn’t immediately comprehensible. It was so that ”though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.”
This is a quotation from Isaiah. He said, ‘Go and tell this people: “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” Make the heart of this people calloused: make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’ (Isaiah 6: 9 – 10). These verses must be read in the context of Isaiah chapter 5, which describes how the people of Judah have become greedy, unjust and dissolute. Worst of all, verse 12 says “but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands.”
In Isaiah 6: 9, the prophet is satirising the people of Judah, in effect saying, “Go ahead then. Keep on living the way you are. Don’t look at the political situation which says you’ll be conquered. Don’t bother listening to me. You’ll all be killed, of course, and your houses torn down, but don’t let a little thing like that worry you.”
In other words, the prophet wasn’t describing what God wants for his chosen people, he was describing the inevitable consequences of their sinful behaviour. And perhaps it’s the same here – and now. Many of those who hear the words of Jesus have calloused hearts. What they hear, or read, doesn’t evoke the desire to know more about him, and about God. They “have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands.”
Jesus doesn’t want people to be condemned; his whole ministry is about forgiveness and life. But it seems here as though he’s pointing out the inevitable consequences of rejecting his teaching.
Once Jesus has told the disciples what the parable means, it all makes sense.
Or does it?
Why does Jesus tell the parable at all? The ground on which each seed falls is fixed.
Or is it?
The only reason I can see for Jesus telling the parable at all, is that we have some choice in how we respond to his teaching. The parable makes us aware of opportunities to do better.
Can I do anything about my hard heart? Can I do anything about the fact that my spiritual hunger is meagre? Can I do anything about my greed for worldly things? With God’s help I can. The parable gives me a spiritual checklist. I can confess my sins in these areas and pray to improve. I can’t do it on my own, that’s perfectly true, but with the help of the Holy Spirit it’s possible.
And we can, perhaps, help others. If people are going to hear and understand when we speak to them of Jesus, we probably need to do some spadework first. We must show love, to help soften a hard heart. We have to pray and trust in the Holy Spirit so that we can communicate the satisfaction of a life lived with spiritual values. We have to make sure that we are giving generously to those in need so that we have the right attitude towards possessions.
And, of course, to win a harvest the seed has to be sown, which means both studying the scriptures prayerfully, and telling people about Jesus, which is what this blog is all about.
Thank you for calling me to study your word. Thank you for your guidance. Please help me to be a better follower of Jesus, in whose name I pray.