Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. . . . — Matthew 13:18-19 (ESV)
Today we return to theÂ Parable of theÂ Sower and the Soils, introduced by an earlier postÂ as part of a developing series onÂ Parables Jesus Told . Note: The first post,Â Entrusted . . ., consideredÂ the Parable of the Three Servants, or, The TalentsÂ (Matthew 25:14-30).
AsÂ previouslyÂ shared, Jesus’ parables are the best known, most engaging, and influential short teaching stories ever told. By challenging the hearer as to whether they will “hear” and follow the teacher, theÂ Parable of the Sower and the Soils (Matthew 13:1-9) offers a larger framework for considering parables as part of the Master Teacher’s toolkit.
TheÂ Parable of the Sower and the Soils
In the larger context ofÂ Matthew 11-12, Jesus is in conflict not only with the religious leaders of his day, but also his family. The religious leaders do not know how to interact with a charismatic, popular leader who criticizes their authority by word and action — even healing on the Sabbath. His family feels insecure about his public ministry and how it affects their image in the community.
With this in mind, how will the crowds and the disciples respond to the challenges ahead? It is not as simple (or romanticized) as the Sower / Teacher casts the seed of the Gospel and fruit will be born for a lifetime . . . an eternity.
Today, the people of God have heard theÂ Parable of the Sower and the Soils taught so many times that we wonder how the audience missed Jesus’ point. Nonetheless, at the time of the original telling, even those closest to Jesus did not understand the teaching. AÂ helpful analogy may be that of a conference speaker who shares an insightful (even revolutionary) point. You know that you should “get it,” but honestly you do not. Or maybe you have additional questions which you wish the speaker had addressed. What do you do? Or should you do? Corner the presenter, ask good questions, listen, and possibly continue the conversation in other contexts. The disciples did such.
Like me, you may initially find Jesus’ statement on his purpose in teaching through parables troublingÂ (Matthew 13:10-17). There are insiders and outsiders. In parables, the secrets of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to Jesus’ disciples, but not to others. But taking a step back, why are Jesus’ disciples following Jesus?Â Do not miss that they corner Jesus in a different manner than the religious leaders — who may be likened to a member of the audience who has come to “tear down” a conference presenter’s material. Jesus’ disciples desire to learn, to be taught, to truly know the teacher, to become part of his family. Jesus’ disciples, with the exception of one, exemplify the good soil bearing much fruit (Matthew 13:18-23).
In Jesus’ story, the good soil stands in stark contrast to the hard soil of the religious leaders. Although they should be the first to embrace the Messiah — plainly before them bringing the kingdom of heaven — they chose to grasp their own power and reject the Messiah. This being the case, the devil snatches away the seed of the Gospel. As a result, the religious leaders grow harder.
Some, who by contrast initially respond in joy, over the long term turn out to be likeÂ rocky soil. When the pressures mount they return to the popular religious / cultural fold instead of the Good Shepherd and the kingdom of heaven. Others find the attractions of the flesh, the devil, and the world overwhelming.
Although all of these soils exist in the “field” in which the Gospel is sown, Jesus (and his disciples, including us as part of the people of God to this day) generously sows to give opportunity to all. We never know:
- Who will receive and who will not.
- Whether a recipient of the Gospel will press on to the end
- Or bow out. . . .
- Or return.
- Or bow out. . . .
As I asked in theÂ previous post, “Who do you see your ‘self’ to be in this parable?”
After offering an explanation of thisÂ expanded analogy used to convince and persuadeÂ , Jesus “put another parable before them” (and Emerging Scholars today). Stay tuned as we seek to weave our faith and vocation together, embrace that which has been entrusted to us as part of the Kingdom of heaven in light of the Parable of the Weeds.
To God be the glory!
Â An adaption of aÂ recent adult elective I taught at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church. The title is taken from an excellent resource by David Allan Hubbard:Â Parables Jesus Told: Pictures of the Kingdom (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981).
Â Klyne R. Snodgrass. Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 9.
About the author:
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the Northeast Regional Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). For a number of years, the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine was the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!