The parable of the sower is perhaps one of the best known of Jesus’ parables. We may however do better to call it “The parable of the soils” because it is the ground that the seed lands on which Jesus’ teaching focuses on.
In Jesus’ story the farmer sows seed by scattering it by hand. The seed lands in four places on his land.
- A hardened path where the seed simply sits on the surface before being snatched away by birds.
- Rocky ground where there is some shallow soil. The seed is able to start growing but cannot put down deep roots and so isn’t able to draw nourishment. It’s scorched by the heat of the sun.
- Ground which has thorns and thistles. The seed grows but has the life coked out of it by the weeds.
- Good fertile soil where the seed is able to grow and bear fruit.
We know that in the parable, the seed represents God’s Word, it’s all about the preaching of good news. This is of course what Jesus is doing, he is the farmer who sows the seed as he goes around Galilee and Judea announcing that the kingdom of God is at hand.
We’ve already seen the different responses that Jesus draws. There are those who have reacted in outright hostility to him, they are immediately comparable to the hard path. They aren’t even able to hear the word, so hardened are they, so tone deaf to God’s Spirit. It’s like birds coming and devouring the seed before it has even rooted. However, whilst the disciples might be excited by the crowds following Jesus, he isn’t taken in. He knows that most will desert him. Some will respond enthusiastically but their response will be shallow and God’s Word won’t really take root in their lives. Others will want to follow Jesus but find that this conflicts with all their other worries and cares. Think of the rich young ruler who seemed so close but could not give up on his riches.
Yet, there will be many who do respond. Jesus’ followers will hear and take to heart his word. They’ll be there to witness his death and resurrection. They’ll receive the Holy Spirit and they’ll go to the ends of the world for him.
If Jesus was ready for those different responses, then so should we be. In fact, here in the passage Jesus describes how the delivery of his message is set up to prepare for that. The telling of parables doesn’t so much make it easier for people to understand heavenly truths as it does filter out those who aren’t really serious and whose responses are shallow.
But I would like to focus in here on the condition of our own hearts. How responsive are we to what God has to say to us? Are we allowing his word to get to work in our lives? Is it bearing fruit? Indeed, I suspect that often it is a little bit more complex isn’t it? We might observe that different parts of our lives are more fertile for God’s Word to work whereas there are areas that seem more hardened and areas where there seem to be a lot of thorns.
To make it practical, let’s list out some of the areas where the Holy Spirit might be speaking to each of us. These might include:
- Our financial situation
- Our work life
- Our relationships and families
- Our sexuality
- Our approach to rest and recreation
- Our response to the call of mission and evangelism as we share our faith.
- Our willingness to use our gifts
Think about how you respond to teaching on those things. I suspect that if we are honest, we’ll all admit that there are aspects of our lives where we’ve seen greater fruitfulness. There are also areas where we have seen much less. There may be specific subjects where when the preacher applies God’s Word to that issue then your response is anger, you close off, maybe you even take a break that Sunday. Then, I know that there are things that I’ve heard a sermon about or have been addressed at a conference or I’ve read a book and I’ve been really moved about at the time but if I’m honest, by the next day, the impact and urgency had gone. It seems that we have paths, stony ground and thorny soil in our own lives.
So, can I encourage you to pause and reflect.
- In which situations am I seeing fruitfulness?
- What aspects of my life do I find myself hiding or guarding from the Holy Spirit?
- Where do I find that I really want to change but I’m struggling and wrestling, it feels like I’m being scorched or choked?
Take time to pray -give thanks for signs of fruitfulness. Bring the struggles to God and ask him to work to remove the thorns and break up the soil in your heart so that you can be more and more fruitful.