Jesus was about to introduce a new teaching and he wanted to make sure he had everyone’s attention. He didn’t want them to just hear his words, he wanted them to listen.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” NIV
As the crowd scattered after Jesus finished teaching, those who stayed around afterwards and the twelve disciples asked him about the parables.
The sower sows a message and that messages falls on different types of soils, or states of our hearts.
For some, the heart is hard, like a path. It has been trampled on, worn down and there is not way for the message to penetrate it. The seed can not grow.
For others, the heart has some rocky places. The ground has been softened, plowed, but the rocks are still there. The message is received, the seeds start to grow, but isn’t able to take root. As the conditions become harsh, the plant withers away.
Still other seed falls on soil that has thorny plants. This soil has been prepared, it has been plowed and the rocks removed, but there are also weeds growing in this garden. As the new seed takes root, it starts to grow. But the competition for nourishment is fierce. And the thorny plants crowd out the new seed. Without proper weeding, the new plants have no chance.
And finally, the last of the seed falls on rich, fertile soil. It is a garden that has been prepared and well taken care of. The soil has been plowed and fertilized, the rocks picked up and stacked to the side, and the weeds pulled. When the seed falls it is well received by the soil. It takes root, it grows, it receives the sunlight and rain, and it produces fruit.
I had the amazing experience of having this text come to life just outside of Nazareth on a trip to Israel. After reading the passage, our trip leader began to walk us through local farmers field. As we walked he began to pick up rocks and toss them on the small rock walls that separated each farmers garden.
Before this experience when I read the parable I would read it as the sower. Afterwards, I realized that the farmers job is not simply sowing the seed, but preparing the soil. Is my heart ready to receive the seed? Have I plowed? Have I removed the rocks and pulled the weeds? And how am I helping other prepare their soil?
Later on in the Chapter 4 Mark shares another parable about seeds. He says the Kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed. He sleeps at night, he’s awake during the day, and meanwhile the seeds sprout and grow. How, he doesn’t know. By itself the soil produces a crop.
The farmer can’t make the crop grow. All he can do is prepare the soil, sow the seed and let it do what it does naturally.
I think we often get caught up on trying to understand how the seed grows. Can we make a better seed, can we plant it in a new way? What if we focused on the soil instead, and just let the seed do what it does naturally?
Another thought for you. Do you stay around afterwards? Do you hang around and ask questions of the text? Or do you tend to wander off at the end of the message and miss the extended conversation, the inside scoop that Jesus has for those who really want to understand what he is saying?