Let's picture the scene. Jesus leaves the house and makes His way to the seaside. The multitudes, eager to hear Him, become so numerous that He must get into a boat, and make it His pulpit. Then He starts teaching.
What is remarkable is what went on before this parable. Going back a few chapters, we see Him:
1. Harvesting grain with His disciples, because they were hungry, and being accused by the Pharisees of breaking the law about no work. He then reminds them of what King David did--eating the consecrated bread--and how the priests break the law by doing the sacrifices and yet are innocent. He reminds them that mercy, not a blind adherence to the Law, is what God desires and then proclaims Himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath. (Matt.12:1-8)
2. He then enters a synagogue, where Sabbath services are in full swing, and heals a man with a shriveled hand. He reminds the leaders that in doing good on the Sabbath, the Law is not broken. The Pharisees are so livid that they "plotted how they might kill Jesus." (Matt. 12:9-14)
3. He withdraws from that place and heals the sick and thus fulfills Isaiah's words about God's Chosen Servant, Who will bring hope to all. (Matt. 12:18-21)
4. He then heals a demon-possessed man, and the Pharisees attribute His power to the Devil. Jesus says, in no uncertain terms, that attributing the work of His Father to Satan will never be forgiven. He then talks of how a tree's fruit indicates what kind of tree it is. He then excoriates them for their evil hearts and that their very words have condemned them. (Matt. 12: 33-37).
5. In response to the Pharisees wanting a sign, Jesus offers the ultimate one: like Jonah, He will be held in the darkness of the earth for three days and then He will reappear. He talks of how utterly unwise this generation is and how they have provided a habitation, in their thoughts and actions, for evil.
6. His mother and brothers show up and want to speak to Him. In the heated exchange with the religious leaders, has His family detected some danger and do they wish to whisk Him away from the leaders' menacing gazes? He gently reminds them and His disciples that doing the will of His Father constitutes His family.
So, now, (no coincidence here) that He tells the parable of the sower to the waiting crowd, and in His mind, He surveys all the different people who have been listening to Him recently.
spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out
to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds
came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not
have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no
depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and
because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among
thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on
good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some
thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 13:3-9)
What's interesting here is, later, with the disciples eagerly inquiring of Him, He explains the meaning: "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience." (Matt. 13:18-23).
We could stop here, but Jesus isn't talking in general terms. The disciples have already seen the various "soils" in action. The sower is God and the seed is His word. Notice, He casts it far and wide. Now, does a sower throw the seed just anywhere? No. He is going to throw it upon tilled soil, prepared and ready. He doesn't cast His seed on stones, on concrete or on a lake. He casts it on the soil of human hearts prepared by the tillage of the Holy Spirit. Now, the disciples just experienced watching the first instance of where the seed falls--on the hearts of the Pharisees who are so hardened in their hearts that they attribute God's miracles to Satan. The Holy Spirit tills, but the rocks of pride, the drying sun of hatred and the eroding rains of judgment have rendered the soil unfit to receive the words of the Almighty, spoken through His Son.
The ones with shallow hearts, will receive the word with joy, but later will fall away because of temptation. The disciples just experienced this with the healings. They saw how the people rejoiced when the man's hand was healed and how eager the people were to follow Jesus. But when the fear of disapproval, the disdainful gaze of the leaders fell upon the people, did they turn away? When Jesus' own family showed up, rejoicing earlier over the wonderful things He was doing, but now afraid that He was attracting the wrong kind of attention, did they, too, lose heart in Him and His ministry?
The leaders and many of the richer people, whose lives directly benefited from the way things were, did Jesus threaten their status with His kingdom built on love? Did they wither away, leaving smaller and smaller fruits behind? Was their place in society more important than Truth?
Jesus scanned the crowd as they sat on the shore. He could see into the hearts of those whose soil, tilled like all the others, were willing to receive the "word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience." (Matt. 13:18-23). Ah, there it is: a soil tilled by the Spirit, watered with the rains of sincerity and seeking, warmed by the belief that here stands the very One of Whom their prophets heralded would come. Even after they felt the scorching heat of others' disapproval, they were willing to grow in the knowledge of Him and the One He sent.
He must have smiled, seeing His disciples whose soil would produce a crop whose very seeds we would harvest, and those sincere followers whose love for Him would never fail.
But He also knew the price that is paid when a seed, a kernel, falls on the soil: "Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very
truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and
dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many
seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.'" (John 12:23-26). The price they would pay, we will pay, is enormous. His death will bring us life, and His blood will water the soil. We will be His witnesses to His work in the soil of our hearts.
Cast the seed of His word. Trust the Sower to go before you and pray for a harvest. He did no less. We can do no more.
For more posts in my parable series, click here.