The Parable of the Sower

Today’s reading is Mark 4:1-25Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

The parable of the Sower is so very well known to us all we have all heard it many times. In some ways it is misnamed… It should really be called “The Parable of the seed that was scattered and what happened to it next” But that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so well!

Jesus often used agricultural stories and parables to get his point across as most of the people in his time would have been engaged in farming and fishing. They would have readily identified with what he was saying. To give a bit of context to the parable there are a few points about the conditions faced by 1st Century Palestinian farmers.

Today to grow crops the fields are ploughed and then seed is planted, this gives the seed every opportunity to grow effectively. However, in Jesus day the practice as opposite—the farmer scattered seed and ploughed after. The seed therefore would go everywhere and the soil was variable as explained in the parable.

  1. Some of the seed fell on a path. Fields were tended in strips with paths in between. They would be trodden down and become compacted hard soil which provided the birds with instant food.
  2. Some of the seed fell on rocky ground. Much of Galilee is limestone with a thin layer of soil on it. The seed would germinate but would not be able to root properly and the plant would die in the heat.
  3. Next there is the seed that was choked by thorns and weeds. There were no chemical weedkillers, the plants would have to take their chances and inevitably some would not compete successfully against the weeds.
  4. Finally the seed that fell on the good soil, rich and deep it produced an abundant harvest—a yield of 30-100 times what was planted.

It may appear that the seed has a number of outcomes but in reality, it either falls on good or bad soil.

As Christians with the benefit of hindsight and even without the explanation given in verses 13-20 we probably understand what Jesus is saying to us through the parable. Jesus is the Sower and the soil are the hearts that either accept his words and become part of his Kingdom (the good soil) or conversely appear to accept his words but in time reject them—the various bad soils.

It is important to remember that even his own disciples often didn’t understand the parables, but in time, following Jesus’ death and resurrection they would have made much more sense. I say this because sandwiched in between the parable and its explanation is what has been described by one of the commentators as the most difficult passage in the Gospel.

When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that “they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.”’

Mark 4:10-12Open Link in New Window

This sounds a bit harsh, it seems like Jesus is excluding people.

What is important to recognise is that Mark frequently focuses his readers on those who are ‘insiders’ and those who are ‘outsiders’ in the Kingdom of God.

  • Those who accepted Jesus often included those others despised, such as those ritually unclean, the sick, sinners, tax collectors and the like. These people along with his closest friends became the ‘insiders’ and to them the mystery of the Kingdom of God was, at least in part, revealed to them.
  • Those who believed they were the ‘insiders’—the Pharisees, teachers of the law rejected Jesus and his teaching and became ‘outsiders’. Their hearts were hardened against Jesus and many became his sworn enemies. Verses 11 and 12 is perhaps best understood in this way: By teaching in Parables, Jesus enemies might not be able to grasp the significance of what he is saying and bring false accusations and charges against him.

In addition it is clear that God sometimes hardens peoples hearts further in order to carry out his sovereign purposes. Jesus words are a paraphrase of Isaiah 6:9-10Open Link in New Window Where Isaiah is prophesying to the stubborn Israelites.

We now come to the explanation of the parable and for this I would like to relate it to our lives today. We know that Jesus is the Sower and he sows the word and the soil are the hearers. So what sort of soil is the Gospel message reaching today?

  1. Firstly the path—people hear the Gospel and it goes in ear and out the other. They are not against it, they just don’t care, it is of no interest to them. One of the commentors says this ‘Christianity fails to make an impact on so many people not because they are hostile to it but because they are indifferent to it. They think that it is irrelevant to life and they think they can get on well enough without it.’ This is certainly my experience and it might be yours as well. Most people think it is fine that I am a Christian, they don’t have a beef about it, it is not just for them. I often get comments along the lines that ‘that’s great for you—I just can’t believe’. I dearly desire that these people allow Jesus into their lives but no argument I can ever come up with gets anywhere. For those in this place we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to reach and touch them.
  2. Secondly the rocky ground—the ground with a thin layer of topsoil. These are people who are attracted to Christianity and may make some form of commitment but never really allow God’s word to sink in deep. The first sign of opposition and they drop out. As a teenager I used to like going to Crusader Camps (Christian youth camps) I would get all excited by faith as I was surrounded by Christian young people and had a great holiday. I remember once I put ‘Jesus loves you’ stickers on my textbooks at school after returning from camp aged about 12. Another boy saw them on the first day back at school and made a snide remark (I am not going to repeat what he said because it is offensive) By the end of the day they were all taken off the books. By the time I was 15 I had lost any faith I had and stopped going to church.

    Ian often talks of us going deeper in our faith. It is why we have small groups and come to church on Sunday. Last week Helen said that we need to be feeding ourselves with God’s word, the Bible. Without going deeper our faith will always be superficial and we are in danger of slipping away. I have seen so many people quit following Jesus and each person I count as an absolute tragedy. If we see one of our brothers and sisters slipping away we must encourage them as much as possible.

  3. Next is the real killer of the seed of faith, the weeds—This is the distraction of wealth and the pursuit of the things of the world. In 2021 International Bulletin of Mission Research which publishes statistics on Christianity said this:

    Christianity thrives in the Global South, with Africa leading (2.81% annual growth), followed by Asia (1.50%) and Latin America (1.14%). In the Global North there’s almost no growth, with Europe being the laggard (0.01%), followed by Northern America (0.27%). Oceania with Australia and New Zealand is also below average (0.63%).

    Faith in Jesus is growing and thriving in poorer communities and where people face persecution. It is stagnant in the affluent parts of the world. I know for my own experience that the things of the world have a great draw. I recognise that I am out of kilter when I spend more time thinking about stuff I want or the things I want to do than about my faith. Jesus said in Mathew 6:21Open Link in New Window For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. This is a challenge for each one of us.

  4. Finally, the good soil. Those who accept Jesus and go deeper with him. But there is a caveat—they are to be fruitful. How are they to be fruitful: by sharing the good news of the Gospel with others and not hiding their light under a bowl… like me ripping off ‘Jesus loves you stickers’ off my exercise books. How is this done:
    1. By the way we lead our lives in our families, amongst our friends, neighbours and those we encounter.
    2. By speaking to others of our faith when we get the opportunity
    3. By praying for people to come to know Jesus
    4. Inviting people to hear the Gospel—inviting them to Alpha or Church events, like our Carol Service.

I guess each one of us has been one or more of those soils at some point in our lives. My prayer for each one of us is that we would go deeper with God and our faith in Jesus.


There will be a video version of the service.

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