In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 19-23; also Mark 4:3-9, 14-20; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15), Jesus reveals why those who hear the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God are not always receptive in the same way. People who are called have their minds opened, the Holy Spirit enabling them to take it to heart, yet many see its surface value but do not internalize it. The parable illustrates the church's relationship to the different groups of people with which it comes in contact.
Jesus uses three components—the sower, the seed and the soils—to indicate the differences. His story shows the fate of the sown seed, the different types of soils on which it fell, and the resulting effects. Though Jesus names it "the parable of the sower" (Matthew 13:18), the subject matter sheds particular light on the diverse soils. Nevertheless, the sower does not play a minor role in the parable, since without Him no sowing would occur, without which there would be no possibility of fruit. However, the sower represents a group, as well as Jesus Himself (Matthew 13:37). The language suggests any typical sower, so God's ministers may be considered sowers of the gospel as well. The Parable of the Sower is essential because it introduces and anticipates the whole series of parables in Matthew 13.
1. What natural conditions regarding seed and soils does Jesus describe? Matthew 13:3-8; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8.
Comment: A farmer places seed in the ground so it will sprout and bear fruit. Some seeds fall on unplowed, unturned, hard ground. This type of soil does not allow the seed to sink in, and the birds easily find and devour the seed.
Stony ground, having little or no soil, has insufficient nourishment for seeds to root and grow into a healthy plant. Initially, they appear to grow quicker because, with less soil to establish a root system, they expend their energy in producing the stem and leaves. When the sun grows hot (representing the light of God's truth exposing them, or trials and persecution testing them), however, the sprouts wither away, the result of inadequate root systems.
Fertile and rich soil provides nutrients for the seeds to produce a crop that varies in its yield. It is common for crops to produce a hundred, sixty, or thirty grains for each one sown. For example, some strains of wheat will produce a crop twelve or fifteen hundred times the original amount of seed sown.
2. On whose ears does God's Word fall and take root? Matthew 13:9, 16-17; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 10.
Comment: The seed represents God's Word communicated in various ways: in preaching, writing, and acts of divine intervention. Those God chooses understand the gospel because it comes only by the power of His Spirit. Without this spiritual power, the hearer is susceptible to having God's knowledge stolen by Satan, the accuser and tempter.
God's Word sometimes falls on the ears of people whose hearts are calloused by sin, on whom it makes no real impression. Like seed on a hard-packed road, it is consumed before it ever has a chance to develop. Such hardened people soon lose interest in Christ's good news and continue in the ways of the world.
3. Are all who are intrigued by God's Word chosen by Him? Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21; 22:14; Mark 4:16-17; Luke 8:13; 13:23-25.
Comment: The stony ground represents those who hear the gospel and feel titillated by its truth. Though their senses are excited, they have no depth of understanding—no rich soil in which it may take root and grow. While suffering anxiety from sin, they respond to the attractive offer of God's mercy. The truth offers them peace of mind, pardon from sin, and salvation with eternal life. Believing they are forgiven, their anxieties seem to disappear, and temporary peace and happiness fill their lives, but they have no foundation upon which to support permanent joy. Their gladness soon subsides, as does their desire to live righteously. They begin to fade from God's truth because they have no real appreciation for Christ's sacrifice or the conviction to resist temptation or to endure trial and persecution. Because they exhibit no true repentance, it becomes evident that they are not true Christians. Excited, human emotion carries them for a time, but it cannot sustain them through the long process of conversion.
4. Are those who are called beyond being enticed by the world? Matthew 13:7, 22; 7:13-14; Mark 4:18-19; Luke 8:14. What kind of response does God desire to see from those He calls? Matthew 13:8, 23; Mark 4:20; Luke 8:15.
Comment: The thorny ground symbolizes those who become consumed by the anxieties of this physical life and the deceitful enticement of wealth. The constant pressures of everyday life—providing sustenance, maintaining employment, seeking education, performing social duties, etc.—can be distracting, causing Christians to ignore God and spiritual growth.
The desire for wealth magnifies this distraction. It is enticing but yields the expected rewards: It promises to make us happy, but when gained, leaves us spiritually empty (I Timothy 6:7-10). The temptation and pursuit of wealth produces bad fruit: dishonesty, stealing, oppression of the poor, and taking advantage of others.
The good ground corresponds to those whose hearts and minds are softened by God's calling and receive it genuinely. They are a rich and fine soil—a mind that submits itself to the full influence of God's truth (Acts 22:14; Ephesians 4:1-6). The called of God not only accept His Word—the message of Jesus Christ—as rich soil accepts a seed for growth, they also bear much fruit (John 15:5, 8).
In the next issue, we will look at the related Parable of the Tares, which portrays the relationship of the church to the wicked one and his agents.