Taking an example from the experience of farmers, Jesus taught the impact of preaching the Word of God depending upon the listeners’ disposition. Jesus came as a sower of the Word of God. He selected the disciples to continue his role as sowers. The negativity of the listeners or the challenges and persecutions that the church would face should not discourage them. The good hearts would produce grains in abundance, and even a hundredfold. Our call as Christians is to prepare our hearts to be fertile soil for the Word of God to germinate and bear outstanding results. The hurdles of spiritual growth should not disappoint us.
The Parable of the Sower
(Matthew 13:1) That same day Jesus left the house and sat down by the lakeside. (2) So great a crowd gathered around him, that he got in a boat. There he sat while the whole crowd stood on the shore, (3) and he spoke to them in parables about many things. (4) Jesus said, “Listen! A sower went out to sow and, as he sowed, some of the seeds fell along the footpath and the birds came and ate them up. (5) Other seeds fell on rocky ground where there was not much soil, and the seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was not deep. (6) When the sun rose the plants were scorched and withered because they had no roots. (7) Again other seeds fell among thistles; and the thistles grew and choked the plants. (8) Still other seeds fell on good soil and produced a crop; some a hundred times, others sixty times, others thirty times what was sown. (9) If you have ears, then hear!”
The Explanation of the Parable of the Sower
(18) Now listen to the parable of the sower. (19) When a person hears the message of the kingdom but refuses to understand it, the devil comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed that fell along the footpath. (20) The seed that fell on rocky ground stands for the one who hears the word and accepts it at once with joy. (21) But it has no roots in him and lasts only for a short time. When he is harassed or persecuted because of the word, he soon gives up. (22) The seed that fell among the thistles stands for the one who hears the word, but then the worries of this life and the love of money choke the word, and it does not bear fruit. (23) But the seed that fell on good soil is the one who hears the word and understands it; this bears fruit and produces a hundred, or sixty, or thirty times more.”
(Matthew 13:1) That same day Jesus left the house and sat down by the lakeside. (2) So great a crowd gathered around him, that he got in a boat. There he sat while the whole crowd stood on the shore.
Jesus was teaching at Peter’s house in Capernaum, where people showed up as a crowd to listen to him (Matthew 12: 46-50). By the time Jesus spoke to Peter’s family and friends, more people had arrived. Since the crowd kept coming in, he found a better way to communicate by sitting down by the sea of Galilee on a boat while the crowd could sit on the mountain side of the shore. While on the boat, the crowd would not press on to Jesus and he could manage with enough visibility and breathing space. That was also a natural sound-amplifying system to address a large assembly. People could hear Jesus better as he was facing from the sea to the valley where the people stood. Though there was an enormous crowd, Jesus taught sitting because the Rabbi sitting and the listeners standing or sitting was the custom of the Jewish teaching.
(3) And he spoke to them in parables about many things.
Jesus used parables to illustrate the spiritual truth to ordinary people. They were excellent teaching aids because the people could remember them. Synoptic gospels give 35 parables. The literal meaning of the parable is “cast alongside.” Jesus used the parables to illustrate a spiritual truth by casting it alongside an earthly model that his followers could remember and hand over to all nations and future generations. It can be a comparison or similitude of a spiritual fact to characters and situations of everyday life. Parables are also expanded proverbs because proverbs are condensed similitudes serving a similar purpose.
In the early part of his ministry, Jesus taught without parables. Later, when the Pharisees confronted Jesus, he taught in parables. The higher-class Jews who were against Jesus were close minded. So, Jesus wanted to conceal the truth from them, while he continued communicating the truth to his disciples. He even explained the meaning of some parables to his disciples as he did in this case. There was a time when he said everything in parables (Mark 4:34, Matthew 13:10). They served also as a secret way of communication during the crisis.
(4) Jesus said, “Listen! A sower went out to sow and, as he sowed, some of the seeds fell along the footpath and the birds came and ate them up.
(18) Now listen to the parable of the sower. (19) When a person hears the message of the kingdom but refuses to understand it, the devil comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed that fell along the footpath.
A sower went out to sow.
In an allegorical sense, the sower is Jesus and later his representatives who preach the Word of God. The sower went out from his residence to the field to sow. Jesus came out from his home in heaven to the world, which is the field that has a variety of soil or listeners. The seed is the Word of God and the soil represents the hearts of the people. But the hearts are different, like the soil that can be a pathway, rocky ground, soil with thorns, or fertile soil of distinct qualities. The sower will sow the seeds in every soil. The receptivity of the soil or the hearts of the listeners will determine the result. All the hearers would not accept the Word of God in the same sense.
Jesus used the example of a farmer’s experience to illustrate the future growth of the church he would establish. The seed came from a former plant of the same species. Jesus based the Word of God on the original teachings of Moses to the Israelites. The late Jewish teachers had manipulated them and thus made them less fruitful. So, Jesus cleaned up the seeds and replanted them in the world that has a variety of people.
We should understand the farming that Jesus presented from the background of the sowing method of the time. Farmers sow the seeds abundantly without separating the path, the rocky area, or the thorny ground. They symbolize different people’s receptivity to the Word of God.
Some seed fell on the path.
While sowing with hand or using carts with holes for seeds to fall scattered on the ground, some seeds fell on the path where the seeds lay exposed without germination. Jesus compared the path where the seeds fell to those who are not open to the Word of God or do not understand it. They were like the Pharisees and other elite leaders who listened to the Word of God directly from Jesus. However, Jesus told about them: “In them the words of the Prophet Isaiah come true: ‘Much as you hear, you do not understand; much as you see, you do not perceive.’” (Isaiah 6:9, Matthew 13:14). God punished the Israelites and made them wander in the desert for 40 years before their entry into the promised land because they hardened their hearts to the voice of God (Psalm 95:7-11). Those who live in sin or whose minds are only in material benefits will be deaf to the Word of God. Though they listen to the Word of God or attend church services, their other interests would harden their hearts.
The farmers had the experience of birds like pigeons eating the seeds lying exposed on the path. Besides, the people walking across the field also crushed the seed underfoot. Jesus’ enemies could manipulate the indifferent listeners and those who do not assimilate it. For example, people who had benefitted from Jesus cried out to Pilate, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:20-23).
The birds that ate the seeds correspond to the evil one that steals the seed. In Mark, Jesus’ interpretation is: “Those along the path where the seed fell, are people who hear the word, but as soon as they do, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.” (Mark 4:15). The same thing happened with Eve. Though she had heard from Adam, God’s commandment not to eat from the two trees in the middle of the Paradise, Satan stole that Word of God from her through his misguidance. In our lives, the evil one can deviate us from the church by working through our friends or people who propagate false views in gatherings and social media.
(5) Other seeds fell on rocky ground where there was not much soil, and the seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was not deep. (6) When the sun rose the plants were scorched and withered because they had no roots.
(20) The seed that fell on rocky ground stands for the one who hears the word and accepts it at once with joy. (21) But it has no roots in him and lasts only for an abbreviated time. When he is harassed or persecuted because of the word, he soon gives up.
The rock with a thin layer of soil above it would contribute the sudden germination and growth of the seed. However, it cannot grow further because of the rock underneath and the tropical sun above. If the plants had more grip in the soil, they could withstand the heat of the sun with the moisture from the soil. Some people are enthusiastic to listen to the Word of God and respond to it. However, when they face challenges in faith, they will withdraw.
Many people, who had seen Jesus’ miracles and inspired by his teaching, had followed him. However, when Jesus preached about giving his flesh to eat and blood to drink, they murmured among themselves. “After this many disciples withdrew and no longer followed him.” (John 6:66). During the triumphant entry of Jesus into the Temple on the feast of his last Passover, the crowd welcomed him singing “Hosanna in the Highest!” and acknowledged him as the “Son of David.” However, almost the same crowd, under the influence of the Jewish rivals of Jesus, denied him in front of Pilate and preferred Barabbas in the place of Jesus and pleaded Pilate to crucify Jesus.
When the evangelists were finishing their gospels, the Jews and the Romans were persecuting Christians making many of them martyrs. Some gave up their faith. This parable was a warning for those who were wavering in their faith. It also gave hope of future glory for the persisting Christians. In the modern world, some people give up faith when they face a crisis in life like a sudden death in the family, economic crisis, or terminal illness. Some others leave the church because of clergy scandals. Our faith should not collapse in the failure of any apostle like Judas Iscariot. Instead, we should learn from their failures and sanctify ourselves and the church.
(7) Again other seeds fell among thistles; and the thistles grew and choked the plants.
(22) The seed that fell among the thistles stands for the one who hears the word, but then the worries of this life and the love of money choke the word, and it does not bear fruit.
Here is another scenario of how some seeds that germinated did not survive. Though the farmer prepared the land, there were seeds and roots of weeds invisible and under the ground. They grew up along with the good seed and chocked them. God is intolerant of preserving the bad along with the good. Before the entry of Israelites to Canaan, God had commanded them through Moses that they should totally destroy the evil inhabitants of Canaan. God was using Israelites as a tool to destroy the sinners there. He commanded that the Israelites should not make any treaty with them and show any mercy to them. They should not intermarry with the Canaanites “because they would seduce your children to abandon me and adore other gods for which the anger of the LORD would blaze out against you, and he would quickly exterminate you.” (Deut. 7:4).
Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters; for he will either hate one and love the other, or he will be loyal to one and neglect the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24). The Bible has several examples of people who failed because of their interest in worldly matters more than God.
God blessed Solomon with wisdom and prosperity of every kind. However, he violated God’s commandments and married many foreign women. “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth, and three hundred concubines, and they turned his heart away. In Solomon’s old age, his wives led him astray to serve other gods, and, unlike his father David, his heart was no longer wholly given to the LORD his God.” (1Kings 11:3-4). His wives introduced idol worship that chocked Solomon’s fidelity to God.
Judas Iscariot followed Jesus, who selected him as one of the 12 apostles. However, along with his apostolic calling, Judas cultivated his longing for money. St. John the Evangelist reports about Judas: “he was a thief and as he held the common purse, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:6). The devil entered the heart of Judas to prompt him to betray his master for money (John 13:2). After the betrayal, Judas could not repent and resulted in his depression and suicide. Thus, the greed for money chocked the holy apostolic calling of Judas Iscariot.
Ananias and Sapphira are other examples of entertaining greed for money, along with their faith that ended in failure. They sold their property and while presenting the proceeds to the apostles, they kept some for themselves in secret. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has filled your heart that you lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back some of the proceeds of your land? … When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died.” (Acts 5:3-5).
The worries of this life and the love of money choke the word, and it does not bear fruit.
The anxiety and greed for worldly riches, fame, or power can act like the weed in the spiritual life of a person. They can choke the spirituality and make a person more world-focused than God-centered. According to Jesus, when we are weary and burdened, we need to turn to Jesus who will give us rest (Matthew 11:28-30). He said, “Do not be troubled; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27). Psalm 55:22 says: “Unburden yourself on the LORD, and he will sustain you, for he never allows the upright to fall.” St. Peter wrote: “Bow down, then, before the power of God so that he will raise you up at the appointed time. Place all your worries on him since he takes care of you. Be sober and alert because your enemy the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:6-8). The book of Hebrews advises us: “Keep yourselves free from the love of money, and be content with whatever you have, for God has said, I will never forsake you or abandon you, and so we shall confidently answer, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
(8) Still other seeds fell on good soil and produced a crop; some a hundred times, others sixty times, others thirty times what was sown.
(23) But the seed that fell on good soil is the one who hears the word and understands it; this bears fruit and produces a hundred, or sixty, or thirty times more.
The produce from the good soil was outstanding and compensated for all the seeds wasted in non-fertile fields. The fertility of the soil was different and so the quantity of the produce varied. Hundred or sixty or thirty grains on one wheat plant is an outstanding result. The hundredfold was an extraordinary and maximum result that could be possible only with God’s intervention. For example, after a famine in Canaan, Isaac the son of Abraham had such a result in the land of Gerar, a Philistine town. Isaac sowed a crop in that region and reaped a hundredfold the same year because the LORD blessed him (Genesis 26:12).
The seeds that fell on the good soil produced an outstanding result. It is not the seed but the soil that made the difference. Soil stands for the heart of the Christian. We must free ourselves from terrible addiction and overcome the worldly anxieties and greed. We also should be receptive to the Word of God and nurture it in our heart and produce its fruit through our actions of charity.
The Palestinian way of cultivation was plowing the soil after sowing the seed. So, the farmers wasted much seed. However, the result from the good soil was an amazing harvest. So also, Jesus and his followers preached the Word of God in abundance. Some people ignored it, several people received it but disregarded it later, a few gave up the faith when they faced a crisis or achieved prosperity. However, the good-hearted people produced outstanding results because of their receptivity and positive approach to the Word of God.
(9) If you have ears, then hear!
Jesus used this phrase at the close of his serious teachings. It means that God has formed us with ears to hear and ability to understand the commandments of the Lord by the working of the Holy Spirit. We must respond by obeying them. This hearing is not just an external one, but listening with a receptive heart to produce its fruit. Jesus used this phrase when the teaching was important, difficult to understand, and to stir up the immediate attention of the listeners for action.