By this time, Jesus was drawing a crowd from a wide area wherever He went. He tells them a parable that is familiar to many of us now, having been in the church for a while and hearing taught several times. But to these people it was brand new, and that’s actually part of the point of the parable, as we shall see.
The story is that a man is sowing seed in the traditional way: walking along the field and throwing handfuls of seed onto the ground so that they are widely and evenly dispersed. When you’ve got an acre to work, maybe two, and no machinery to help you, you don’t individually plant every single seed. Instead, you get the seeds on the ground, and then plow the rows so that the seeds are buried in the topsoil.
At least, that’s what happens for most of the field. Because the seed is just thrown around, not all of it lands on the good soil. The sower walks on a hard-packed path between the field plots. The path doesn’t get plowed, so it’s easy for the birds to find the seed on the top of the ground and eat. Around the edges will be the weeds and rocks. Even though these parts aren’t plowed either, the seed scattered there can sprout naturally, but the plant that grows from it doesn’t thrive.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (v. 8) The disciples evidently wondered if they had ears to hear because they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. But Jesus tells them that’s the whole point of teaching in parables: those that are meant to understand will, and those that aren’t won’t. Then Jesus gives them the explanation for this parable because He does want His disciples to know what He is talking about. The seed represents the word of God and the people who hear it are the soil it is sown on. Some are hard-packed paths and reject God’s word, so the devil takes it away before it can grow and bear fruit. Others are thin rocky soil and believe the word for a little bit until it becomes too hard to hold to their beliefs. Still others have too many competing concerns in their life to let the word flourish in their lives. But the last group, the good soil, believes in the word of God wholeheartedly, so that it produces good fruit which can be sown again to others.
Very often, the application that is taught with this parable is “be the good soil”. Yes, that is a good thing to be, but that’s not the point that Jesus has made. How does soil become good for farming? It gets plowed! And before that the farmer has to remove the rocks and weeds (and keep removing the weeds after planting). Beloved reader, take note of this. The soil can not make itself good for the seed. When we hear God’s word, it is not up to us whether it takes root in our lives. It is by His grace alone that we are saved, not our own works, so that no one may boast.
Lord Jesus, break up the clods in our hearts and make us ready to receive your word with great joy. Make us into fertile ground that reproduces Your word over and over again to be sown in the hearts of those around us.