How many of you have planted a garden? If you have, you know that there is a lot of work involved such as preparing the soil, pulling weeds and watering the soil. Perhaps the most important task is planting seeds. There are at least two ways to plant the seeds. One is to kneel on the ground and plant the seeds. Another way is to walk along and scatter the seeds, and that’s the example Jesus used in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
Jesus cast his message far and wide to convince people that God loves them and is inviting them into a new way of life. He expects us to cast the same message far and wide. Anyone who is open to this message can receive it. It is something they could not have received on their own. When they receive it, they are blessed because they have heard and seen something that has been hidden from the rest of the world.
The parable of the sower has three main elements: the sower, the seeds and the soils. The sower represents the Lord, the seed represents the Word of God, and the soils represent four categories of hearers, each with a different response to God’s Word.
In Jesus’ day, sowers would drape a bag of seed over their shoulder, and as they walked up and down the often-uncultivated furrows, they would throw handfuls of seed across the ground. Preaching the word of God is like taking God’s seed-the Word of God-and scattering it everywhere.
The wayside soil represents the calloused heart. In Palestine at the time of Jesus, narrow ribbons of grounds divided the fields. These ribbons were rights of way, travelled so frequently that their surfaces were as hard as concrete and the seed could not penetrate the soil.
The stony ground represents the casual heart. The stony ground describes not a field filled with rocks but an area of limestone covered by a thin layer of dirt. The seeds would fall and immediately take root, but because their roots could not go deep enough to draw moisture from the ground, the plants would wither in the heat. In a similar way, some people appear to be converted and seem to experience explosive growth, but soon fall back into their old ways of living. Jesus is not speaking of losing one’s salvation-He says that such people never had salvation to begin with. Instead, they had only a shallow, emotional experience.
The thorny ground represents the crowded heart. This soil has weeds that eventually choke out the seed. The soil has four kinds of weeds: the deceitfulness of riches, the cares of this world, the lust of other things, and the pleasures of this life. The enemy here is not internal but external. The hearts of the third set are divided. Their hearts are crowded. The shallow nature of some people who receive Christ lies in their impulses, compassion, intentions and surroundings. They are easily swayed by the influences of the world. In contrast, those who bear fruit look beyond worldly experiences and move into a rich, deep relationship with Jesus.
The sower knows that the variety of seeds will determine his crop. In the good soil, among responsive people, there is still variation, but there is still a harvest of faith. The good ground represents the converted heart-the person who hears the Word, allows its truth to sink in, and is genuinely saved. Just as there are three levels in not believing the Word of God, there are also three levels of productivity in the hearts of those who believe. Some produce fruit a hundredfold, some produce fruit sixtyfold, and some produce fruit thirtyfold. But Jesus presents no category where a believer produces fruit “zerofold.”
The enemy of the Word in the first soil is the devil, represented by birds who snatch away the seed. The enemy in the second soil is the flesh that can’t handle the heat of the sun. The enemy in the third soil is the world and its system-the pleasures, riches and cares of this life. The proof of genuine salvation is not shown by listening to or emotionally responding to the Word, but by the fruit.
Whoever hears Jesus’ word, labours to understand it and then goes on to bear fruit represents the good ground in the parable. Significantly, Jesus does not commend those who produce thirty times what was sown any less than those who produce a hundredfold. In His time, an excellent yield was tenfold (10 harvested for one sown); these numbers in Matthew indicate that the harvest will far exceed anything any of His listeners had experienced. Those who accept His Word aren’t always successful by the world’s standards.
Jesus often used parables, He used them to hide the truth from believers while making it clear to His disciples. Unfortunately, he didn’t always succeed, as the second half of the reading shows. Jesus’ veiling of the truth from unbelievers was both an act of judgment and an act of mercy. It was judgment because it kept them in the darkness that they loved. It was mercy because they had already rejected the light, so any exposure to more light would only increase their condemnation.
The parable of the sower shows the risk of sowing the seed of the Good News, but it assures us that much of the seed will bear a harvest. The sower is not upset by areas of inadequate soil or areas where the Good News is not accepted wholeheartedly. The sower realized that the good soil will yield a good harvest. The story focuses on the message of the kingdom, and respectively on Jesus and His followers as preachers of the kingdom.
Before we can bear fruit, we have to prepare ourselves to receive the seed of God’s Word, just like a farmer prepares the ground before he plants seeds. We have to admit to ourselves that we are sinners who are living in darkness. Just like a farmer waters the soil, we have to let the Holy Spirit water our souls to receive the Good News and accept Jesus as our Saviour. Only then can Jesus plant His Word in our hearts to bring forth the fruit of righteousness in His time, especially during life’s trials.
God wants us to hear, understand and apply His words and instructions. He doesn’t see us as vaults in which He hides His Word. He sees us as gardens in which His Word can sprout and grow. Receiving the Good News means becoming like Jesus. It means changing our character and outlook. As we spend time with Jesus and get to know Him better, His thoughts will become our thoughts. His purpose will become our purpose. God can’t help but share His love, grace and mercy and will do so recklessly and wastefully, because God alone knows that grace is never exhausted and love is never wasted.
Jesus’ parables revealed the true nature of the responses and decisions of the members of His audience. Those committed to the Kingdom of God would seek and find understanding. Those who were uncommitted—perhaps listening only because of the initial excitement—would reject the teaching as unintelligible.
Those who receive the Word and become true followers of Jesus will undergo times of hardship, times of trial and seasons where they will feel as though God is far from them. There will be times when other people give them a tough time for no reason other than the fact that they are Christians. We and they must remember not to build our lives on approval of other people. We must build our lives on Christ.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1303-1305)
- Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p.18)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- The New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1-Matthew & Mark. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Greg Laurie, “How Do We Bear Spiritual Fruit?” Retrieved from www.harvest.org
- “The Good Soil.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 15th Sunday (A)>” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- L.B. Cowman, “Streams in the Desert.” Retrieved from Christianity.email@example.com
- Alfred Edersheim, “Why Did Jesus Teach in Parables?” Retrieved from Jesus.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Richard Neill Donovan, “Exegesis for Matthew 13:1-9,18-23.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Greg Laurie, “Shallow Roots.” Retrieved from www.harvest.org