Mark 4: 1 – 20 The parable of the sower
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: ‘Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places , where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.’
Then Jesus said, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
‘ “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
And ever hearing but never understanding;
Otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!” ‘
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?’ The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown in rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because ot the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this world, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.’
* * *
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 “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, And ever hearing but never understanding; Otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!”
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.
We can also, 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.