THE GOSPELS 73
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
At this point Jesus begins to use a method of teaching which will be His main way of getting His important message to the multitudes. A parable is a word picture of the lesson the teacher wants the hearer to understand. The things that Jesus wanted to teach were spiritual principles so different from anything that had ever been taught before that He had to find some method of making them understood. The only language He had to use was a pagan language, so it was necessary for Him to find a way to redefine the terms they were used to hearing so they could see the difference and understand the principles He was teaching.
The disciples asked Jesus why He spoke in parables, and His answer needs to be studied carefully lest we misunderstand. Quoting from Isaiah, He says that the parables make it clear to people who want the truth, but to people who have no interest in the truth and do not want to change and be healed, it allows them to misunderstand. The responsibility is placed squarely on the shoulders of the hearer. God does not force His truth on anyone. Man’s freedom of choice is a fundamental principle of God’s creation. It was the principle Adam used to deny God’s love, and it is the same with us today.
The love of God is an energizing quality and those who have it allow the will of God to be the deciding factor in all the activities of life. When Jesus says, “Hearing they do not hear”, He is saying that those who listen but are not moved by what they hear, as well as those who reject it, will suffer loss of spiritual contact with the truth. This means separation from God and the loss of one’s eternal soul.
In this parable, Jesus, as always, selects a subject with which His hearers are very familiar. In this case He was in the boat, the audience was on the shore. He may have seen a sower in a field and pointed to him as He spoke this parable. As in all parables, this one contains only one salient point. It has to do with how one responds to the Word of God. The response to any spoken word depends on the hearer. There is no meaning in a word. The meaning is in the head of the one who uses it, and the response depends on the meaning which it elicits in the head of the one who hears it. That meaning is colored by the background of the hearer, his prejudices and his evaluations. So Jesus is describing here how the mind-set of the hearer affects the meaning of the word he hears.
First, in the parable, is the seed sown by the wayside. In that country at the time of Jesus, corn was planted in rows and between the rows was a right-of-way where people walked. Thus the ground was hard from many feet pounding it as travelers walked there. This seed represents those who do not understand the Word and thus it has no meaning to them. His parables were designed to cure this problem by making the truth simple.
Then, there was the seed which fell in rocky ground. This was not ground with lots of rocks but soil that was shallow and close underneath was a shelf of hard rock. These hearers found the message interesting and joined the movement, but they never took it seriously and its effect soon withered away. I am afraid that describes many people today. They want to be religious and claim to be Christian but they never seriously consider its real depth and so it never really changes them as a person, nor affects their daily life. These people continue to be “members”, but their commitment fades into the background and produces no fruit for Christ, either in their life or the lives of others.
The seed among thorns represents those who are too busy with the cares of their worldly life to take any real interest in their faith. It remains incidental and, as a motivating factor in their life, is dead.
Finally, Jesus points to the fact that really hearing and responding to the Word has a tremendous effect on the hearer. If there is not a change, then the real meaning did not come through. Christianity is a twenty-four hour awareness of the presence of the Lord in your life and a commitment to His will in all things, regardless of the cost. It is not satisfied with going to church, nor performing any set of rituals. It is a way of life that walks always in the path where Jesus walks. The crop which this seed grows is a soul in a personal relationship with its Creator, with love and adoration for Him alone.