The Parable of the Sower

 

Luke 8:5-15 Easy to Read Version (ERV)

5  "A farmer went out to sow seed. While he was scattering the seed, some of it fell beside the road. People walked on the seed, and the birds ate it all.

6  Other seed fell on rock. It began to grow but then died because it had no water.

7  Some other seed fell among thorny weeds. This seed grew, but later the weeds stopped the plants from growing.

8  The rest of the seed fell on good ground. This seed grew and made 100 times more grain." Jesus finished the story. Then he called out, "You people who hear me, listen!"

9  Jesus' followers asked him, "What does this story mean?"

10  He said, "You have been chosen to know the secret truths about God's kingdom. But I use stories to speak to other people. I do this so that, 'They will look, but they will not see, and they will listen, but they will not understand.'

11  "This is what the story means: The seed is God's teaching.

12  Some people are like the seed that fell beside the path. They hear God's teaching, but then the devil comes and causes them to stop thinking about it. This keeps them from believing it and being saved.

13  Others are like the seed that fell on rock. That is like the people who hear God's teaching and gladly accept it. But they don't have deep roots. They believe for a while. But when trouble comes, they turn away from God.

14  "What about the seed that fell among the thorny weeds? That is like the people who hear God's teaching, but they let the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life stop them from growing. So they never produce a crop.

15  And what about the seed that fell on the good ground? That is like the people who hear God's teaching with a good, honest heart. They obey it and patiently produce a good crop.

 

 

I have heard or read the “The Parable of the Sower” many times.  I did not always correctly understand its message.  The name given the story by biblical editors is misleading.  The key to the story is not the farmer or sowing person scattering the seed.  The story is about the seed and where it lands. 

The story It is not about the person scattering the seed, or his method of farming.  In Matthew and Luke, the farmer is not mentioned by Jesus in his explanation of the meaning of the story.  Mark 4:14 (ERV) says, “The farmer is like someone who plants God’s teaching in people.”   

The key to understanding this story is the seed and how it is received.  It is not about the sower.  The story is not about the method of spreading God’s teaching or the quality of the message.  It is about the receptiveness of the landing place to process the message.

This parable used to trouble me because randomly scattering seeds and expecting results seems counterproductive.  Would it not be better to carefully plant seeds in rows with proper spacing and at the right depth?  Watering and cultivating the plants after they sprouted would certainly yield better results than the farmer in Jesus story experienced.  That is the way I was taught to garden.

Several years ago, I attended a Church Planting seminar where as part of our training we were given information about a town in another state.  The information included statistics, demographics, maps, local real estate costs, and resources available.  We were to analyze all the data and determine where to begin to plant a new church, with what resources, and to what demographic would we address our church planting effort.  In other words, we were to determine how best to market a new church to this new community.  The process did not begin to resemble the idea of a farmer just scattering seed.

The “Parable of the Sower” is found in three of the Gospels, Matthew 13:3-9, Mark 4:3-9, and Luke 8:5-8.  The story versions are virtually the same.  The farmer went out to sow seed.  The seed fell on four different soil type locations.  The productive result from sowing the seed differed according the type of soil where the seed landed.  It was only the seed that landed in good soil that grew and matured to produce new grain.  In each case Jesus ended the story with “You people who hear me, listen!”

In Matthew and Mark Jesus sat down in a boat to teach people who stayed on the shore of the lake.  Jesus used stories to teach them many things and the Parable of the Sower was just one of those stories.  In Luke’s Gospel a large crowd came together, and Jesus told them this story.  In all three gospels Jesus’ disciples wanted to know why Jesus used stories to teach people.  In Luke they specifically asked about this story, “What does this story mean.

Jesus response in Luke is, "You have been chosen to know the secret truths about God's kingdom. But I use stories to speak to other people.  I do this so that, 'They will look, but they will not see, and they will listen, but they will not understand.'   In Matthew Jesus adds, “Yes, the minds of these people are now closed. They have ears, but they don't listen. They have eyes, but they refuse to see. If their minds were not closed, they might see with their eyes; they might hear with their ears; they might understand with their minds . Then they might turn back to me and be healed.'  But God has blessed you.  You understand what you see with your eyes.  And you understand what you hear with your ears.” 

In Mark Jesus then asks the disciples, “Do you understand this story?  If you don't, how will you understand any story?”  It seems Jesus was hinting to his disciples that this story is an easy one to understand.

In all three gospels the sowed seed lands in one of four distinct environments. 

The first seed landing location is along the path or roadside.  Apparently not alongside the road but on the path or in the roadway because Luke says it was trampled underfoot.  All three gospels say that the birds came and ate it all.  I am the kind of person who likes to try to find a way to fix things that don’t work correctly.  How can this seed landing location be fixed?  This seed doesn’t even get a chance to sprout!   Can we shoot the birds before they eat the seed?  Can we somehow scare the birds away?  Maybe we could come along behind the farmer and sweep the path to make sure none of the seed stayed in that vulnerable location.  Are there any practical ways to do those kinds of fixes with the Word of God?

The second seed landing location is on rocky ground.  The seeds that sprouted there started to grow quickly but soon withered and died from lack of moisture.  The roots could not grow deep in the rocky ground.  Can we fix this problem by holding daily Bible classes to water and nourish the seedlings?  How effective could that be?  How long could this increased level of attention be maintained?

The third seed landing location was among thorny weeds where the seedlings started to grow but the good plants were stopped from growing because they were deprived of sun and nutrition by the thorny weeds that choked them off.  They never grew to maturity where they could make new grain.  Can this be fixed?  Can we pull these nasty weeds up by their root without killing our delicate seedlings?  Maybe we could treat the ground with spiritual Roundup, killing the weeds before sowing the seed.  

Finally, the fourth seed landing location was good ground.  The seed that landed here grew and made grain with 30, 60 and 100 percent production rates.  Is there anything that even needs fixing with seeds that landed at this location?  Apparently not, the ground is good enough that there will be growth even without further intervention.  However, cultivating and watering could hardly hurt productivity.

You see, my problem is that I read the story and try to fix the things that are wrong!  Somehow, I think that when I do that, I miss the point of the story. 

In all three gospels Jesus has been teaching large crowds of people.  Jesus taught them using parables and he said that he did that because some people were not ready to understand the message.  This makes me wonder why Jesus would sit for hours on a boat, in the sun, teaching when he knew that much of what he was teaching was not going to be understood by the majority of the people to whom he was talking.  

Maybe the point of this story is that the Word of God when sown by anyone will bear fruit.  We should not be discouraged by seemingly fruitless results, or by spontaneous initial response that fades away.  We should look instead to seeing growth and reproduction by those few whom God has placed in the right place to effectively receive the message and produce fruit.

Note that in each of the gospels Jesus ends the story with, "You people who hear me, listen!"

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