Today’s passage is the famous Parable of the Sower, with which I am sure you are well-acquainted. I’ll try to shed some new light on it for ya.
One reason why Jesus spoke so much in parables was his wish not to be disturbed by two classes of people. One was the mere nosy “Parkers” who hung around to pick up anything sensational he might say. They were just there for the show, and if he spoke in parables, they’d look at each other and go, “Huh?”, and hopefully walk away. The others he wished to keep off were the scribes and official leaders who would dearly love to catch him saying anything seditious, anything for which he might be arrested. For them, the parables were just too slippery to be used as evidence in a court trial. Both classes of people would hear nothing but simple stories, sometimes so simple as to sound almost childish, sometimes so fantastic as to sound like weird fairy tales. Certainly nothing for the papers! So the curiosity seekers and the Gestapo would go on home, and only those who really wanted to know would stay behind to crack the shell of those brilliant little stories.
Parables have a mystery of the kingdom of God to unfold, namely, the gradualness of its establishment, in opposition to the prevalent notion of its immediate setting up by a Divine, supernatural power. The messianic kingdom was not going to be a sudden overthrow of Rome, or a sudden anything, but a slow growth into fruitfulness. The Parable of the Sower shows that the present slow growth is due to the differences of soil; that is, of spirit in the hearers. It is a matter of the Word and of hearers of the Word, and the result is largely influenced by the different classes of hearers. I also happen to think it’s possibly about other things as well, and I’ll explain that later.
To me this parable finds its parallel in John 1.1-18 (it’s one of my unique takes on the story). The Word came and was easy to see. One could even see the hand of the sower preparing the fields. This Word was life, like a seed. But some didn’t receive the seed. Those who did, however, were blessed with life (Jn. 1.12).
Another piece that you often don’t hear people say, though, is that because this appears in all three gospels, and because it is the first of Jesus’ parables, we must treat this as a major turning point in Jesus’ history.
1. It reveals the matter of the “messianic secret”. Before the sower, Jesus’ reluctance to come right out and declare his messiahship in plain terms was mostly a matter of occasional warnings—both to demons and to beneficiaries of his signs—not to reveal who he really was. But subsequently it becomes a kind of intentional mystification that he incorporates into his teaching as a deliberate principle. He doesn’t reveal who he is for the reason that most aren’t going to get it, and he doesn’t want to increase their level of accountability and culpability.
2. It gives not only a new substance but also a new style to his proclamation. He goes beyond mere comparisons and produces parables. This is a strategy that he will use many times.
In verse 1, we find Jesus wandering the countryside, preaching in towns and villages. He is an example of his own teaching: “Go!” He doesn’t stay put, but he goes, as if he is driven to reach as many as he possibly can. No town is too large; no village too small. All must hear. Is the small village not worth his time, which could be better spent in just the big venues with the large crowds? It doesn’t seem so. “Wherever two or three are gathered.” Do the large towns intimidate him, as if they might have too much resistance, or be too much of a challenge? Certainly not. Every heart must be reached; every ear must hear; every soul must be given a chance. It is into this context he speaks this story.
He didn’t go from town to town with the purpose of doing miracles to draw a crowd and put on a good show, or to impress them with spectacular works. He went to proclaim. How will they hear, unless someone goes and preaches? He’s not here for a show, but in a battle for truth and the salvation of the world. He works, preaches, and teaches tirelessly.
“The good news.” This is no religious system, or a new religion. It is life itself (back to Jn. 1.1-18): the source, meaning, purpose, and destination of all life. Eternity, creation, and the souls of every human being hang in the balance. It’s not just an alternative belief system, but the truth of the universe, and it’s good news.
“The kingdom of God.” Books have been written about the kingdom of God. Suffice it to say at this point, that much of the Bible is about the contrast of the kingdom of God vs. the kingdoms of this world. Jesus also speaks of a kingdom of light rather than darkness, of good vs. wickedness, or life rather than death, of joy rather than suffering, of God’s presence vs. his absence, of truth, faith, hope, and love. Who wouldn’t want to tap into a kingdom like this? A lot of people, oddly enough, it turns out. It is out of this reality that the parable is told.
V. 2: Again Luke makes specific mention of the women. Women followers was unheard of in the ancient world of discipleship, but Jesus broke all social mores by both allowing and encouraging it. But Jesus was never accused to lustful thoughts or inappropriate behavior. He observes Jewish proprieties. He doesn’t go to the bed of Jairus’ daughter without witnesses. But he doesn’t hesitate to speak with a woman (Jn. 4), to teach a woman (Lk. 10), or to call a woman a daughter of Abraham (Lk. 13.16). He speaks on behalf of women (Mk. 12.40 and other places). He breaks the Sabbath for a woman (Lk. 13.10), and he doesn’t shun contact with unclean women (Mk. 1.31 and others). He’s absolutely amazing. One of the women, Joanna (8.3), is someone of power, influence, and means. It’s fascinating that he appeals to men and women, the rich and the poor, the education and the peasant, the workman and the patrician, the powerful and the powerless, the sick and the whole. Who IS this guy?
As far as the parable itself, I’ll spare you the traditional interpretation, which you’ve heard 100 times. And it’s probably true. But I think this parable might also be more progressive than it is four separate types. When a person first becomes a Christian, the first threat is Satan just stealing it away. But if he continues on, the next threat becomes not enough root to survive. The 3rd threat, once there is enough root, is that worries and deceit choke the life out of it. But if a convert can survive those three, he has a good chance of growing strong and bearing fruit. It’s just another way of looking at the threats that work to undo us.
Just some other pointers about the parable:
1. The farmer went out. God goes out to us. He initiates. Jesus went to people. He seeks; he initiates; he plants.
2. Scattering. Notice how widespread the kingdom is. It is cast far and wide, in every nook and cranny, whether receptive or not. Of higher value than “irresponsible” farming is that the whole world be given a chance.
3. Some fell along the path. Sometimes we do cast our pearls before swine. In an attempt to reach all, we become all things to all men, and we throw the gospel where it may be a waste, but throw it we still do. You never know whom God is working in. It’s not so much the soils that are a problem, but where they are, and what is with them. Hmmm…