I’ve never been a gardener, but I’ve done some this year. I’m trying to detoxify a patch of soil in our backyard and I heard sunflowers would do a good job of that. So, I got my hands dirty and prepared the soil, planted the seeds, took out the weeds, well, some of them, and watered the plants to make them grow. We live in a toxic world where hate and anger seems to flow from everyone, including Christians. We need to get our hands dirty and show people God’s love and grace – prepare the soil to carry the metaphor further – and openthe door for ourselves and others to share the word of God with those who have been oppressed by that hate. So, get your hands dirty and show people God’s love, every day.
1. And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land.
If you talk to any Realtor, you’ll discover that the value of any property is based on three principles: location, location, location. In other words, getting the right place for your home and/or business will be the make or break factor in whether or not your business survives and your house grows in value. Jesus didn’t follow that maxim, though. When He went out to teach, He went by the seaside as He proclaimed His message of the Kingdom of God. Society’s rules, as always, didn’t apply to Jesus. People heard where He was and they flocked to see Him, to hear Him, perhaps even to be healed by Him. As the crowd pressed in on Him, He got into a ship and taught those who had gathered.
2. And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,
At this point, we see Jesus using parables to teach the people. He had used parables before when talking to the religious leaders. Now, He was teaching the multitudes using parables. As we’ll see later in the lesson, not only were these parables difficult to understand for the average man on the street, the disciples had difficulty understanding them. Confrontations with the religious leaders were great. The healings were miraculous and appreciated. The parables left people puzzled, but they made people think. The disciples pried the meaning out of Jesus later that day, but those who didn’t get that inside insight may have pondered them until some event triggered their understanding and they realized the meaning behind Jesus’s words. And now, the parable.
3. Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: 4. And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. 5. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: 6. But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. 8. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. 9. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
I would guess that most, if not all, of the people who gathered, understood the story behind this parable. They had, most likely, all planted crops at one time and they knew that the process was to sow the seed indiscriminately and wait for it to grow, knowing that not every seed would grow as desired. I’m not a farmer – not even a gardener. This year I planted some sunflowers. Without getting into the whole rationale for that, I can tell you that the instruction on the package were very explicit about how far apart each seed should be planted. The farmer in the days of Jesus didn’t have those kinds of instructions. They went out into their field, grabbed a handful of seeds from the bag, and started throwing their seed around as they walked. Oh, they aimed for the soil they had prepared, but the seed spread onto all kinds of soils. As Jesus told this parable, I would guess that there were plenty of nodding heads from those who recognized what was going on. I don’t know if Jesus had prefaced this with the phrase we see at other times: “the Kingdom of God is like…” but I have no doubt that the people were expecting some kind of teaching related to God’s work, and Jesus told them a parable from everyday life. He finished with the phrase “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” I believe that the meaning of that last sentence is that if a person can hear His words, they should discern (really hear) the meaning behind His words. We use that understanding of “hear” today. Some people hear words, but don’t hear meaning and we ask them if they even heard what we said. They might be able to repeat what we said word for word, but they don’t understand why we said what we said.
10. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. 11. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: 12. That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
The disciples were a mixed group that included fishermen and tax collectors. Perhaps they didn’t know what Jesus had taught for themselves, although I doubt that. They had been with Jesus for a little bit of time, though, and they were confused about the meaning and they asked Jesus about that. Before Jesus explained the parable though, He reminded the disciples that they had a special purpose in the Kingdom of God. He wanted them to know the parables, but others wouldn’t get the meaning. Later, of course, Jesus had to explain the parable to them. Meanwhile, Jesus echoed the words from Isaiah 6 that defined his mission. Just as Isaiah would preach a message that people couldn’t understand because their hearts were hardened, so would the message of Jesus fall on hearts that were calloused against the word of God. As it was then, so it is today. The disciples were already being groomed for the mission that they would undertake after Jesus’s death and resurrection.
13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? 14. The sower soweth the word. 15. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17. And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. 18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 19. And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. 20. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.
Jesus probably wouldn’t get the best evaluations were He teaching in today’s public classrooms. Notice the first words out of His mouth when actually discussing the parables could be translated as “You guys didn’t get the easy one? We are going to have some real trouble when we get to the other ones – the hard ones.” As we see, however, Jesus did explain the meaning, and we see a powerful story of how the word of God spreads. First we realize that the sower is spreading the word of God. Is Jesus speaking of Himself or of someone else. The answer as I see it is, “Yes.” While Jesus walked the earth, He spread the word of God and had all the results He attributed to the sower. At the same time, this parable applies to anyone who’s sharing God’s word. When we sow the word, we don’t, as mentioned earlier from my experiences, carefully place each seed so far apart. Our job is to spread the word indiscriminately knowing that even as the words of Jesus often fell in the bad areas of “soil,” so will the words we share. Our job isn’t to judge the soils before we sow God’s word; our job is to spread God’s word and let the “soil” respond as it will.
The first group Jesus talked about was the seed that fell outside the fallow area of soil. This seed probably fell on the paths hardened through the years by people walking all over that area as they developed a path to work in the fields. To add my interpretation to this part of the parable, these are people who’ve had the ways of the world pounded into them throughout the years. As soon as the word hits this soil, it’s snatched away by Satan. It’s not so much that these people reject God’s word when they hear it as that they’ve been conditioned to reject His word before they hear it. These are the people that we want to reason with. These are the people we want to prove wrong, not realizing that the very act of attacking the error of their thinking is exactly what they expect.
The next group that Jesus mentioned were those who get excited when they hear the word of God and become converted immediately. They get excited enough to share the word of God. Maybe they recognize areas in their lives that need to be changed and they work on it. When these people come to Christ, probably with lots of tears, we look at them and marvel at their instant conversion and growth, only to see these people burn out before too long when they run into a roadblock. Some kind of a personal crisis happens and rather than look at circumstances or their own actions they blame God and their faith shrivels and dies. These are the people who will respond to you if you share God’s word with them by telling you that they tried religion and it just didn’t work.
After that, Jesus talked about people that He dealt with, and Paul dealt with, and we’re still dealing with today who are really dangerous. The seed falls in pretty good soil, but so have some other seeds: seeds from thorns and weeds. The plant seems to grow, but rather than being able to focus on God’s word, the worries and cares of this life choke the plant and it becomes unfruitful. Without mentioning any names, some of our most well-known preachers fall into this category as well as a lot of other people. We see that happening when things other than the gospel become important in their lives. When success, privilege, money, personal rights, or anything else becomes equal to God and spreading His word, their message and their faith is choked by those weeds. In the section of plants that I’m growing, I dare not even call it a garden, we have some pretty purple flowers. As beautiful as they are, though, I didn’t plant them, so I have had to work on weeding them out, lest my sunflowers be choked off from the food and water they need.
Finally, we get to the soil that Jesus called the good ground. This is the ground that was ready to receive God’s word and the plants grew and produced more fruit, or seed which allowed the cycle to continue. Before corporate farming bought designer seed on a yearly basis, a farmer would sell his crops while retaining some of the seeds for the next year’s planting. And the next year, the farmer would go through the process again. When our hearts are ready and we hear and receive the word of God, not only do we rejoice in it, we share that good news with others. If we try to plant one seed at a time, we find many who aren’t “good ground,” and it’s easy to get discouraged. The way to overcome that discouragement is to make a habit of spreading God’s word wherever we go and with whomever we meet. We will run into people who have been prepared for God’s love by the work of others and be blessed by the privilege of sharing the gospel with them. At the same time, we need to live in the power of God’s love which will prepare the soil of those we know for others to share the word of God. The good ground that Jesus talked about was the ground that the farmer had plowed, watered, fertilized, and otherwise prepared for the planting time. Our lives, our words, and our love should be preparing others to experience God’s love at all times. So, keep sowing the seeds and keep getting your hands dirty preparing the soil, knowing that our work for God is never in vain.