Mark 4-5 Parable: The sower and the four soils

From Mark 4-5

40 41 42 43 Gospel Jesus is risen Christ thumb

God is out spreading the good news and there are four types of people who hear the message. Each type of person will respond differently to the message. However the message is not so easy to understand. It requires spending time with Jesus. Those who don’t understand the message will be judged and will not be forgiven. Those who do will bear much fruit. Which kind of person are you?

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

In today’s passage Jesus teaches the people in parables. This is the first of Mark. But as we have seen in Matthew the gospel has many more.

[1] Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. [2] And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: (Mk 4:1-2)

41 Jesus teaching in a boat

Jesus has obviously attracted a large audience. The crowds get so large Jesus decides to get in a boat and speak to them. The alternative I guess is that people would be milling all around him. Some to his front and some to his back. The boat obviously seemed more desirable. I’m not sure however about the acoustics of being in a boat in water, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had to shout.

Jesus teaches them. Another aspect of Jesus ministry is his teaching. Most commonly he teaches people about the kingdom of God.

The people were waiting for the kingdom of God and its king to come.

Jesus teaches them in parables. Parables make up at least one third of Jesus recorded sayings. He was certainly a master at using them to teach. Here we go.

41 Parable of a sower

[3] “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.

[4] And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.

[5] Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. [6] And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.

[7] Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.

[8] And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

[9] And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mk 4:3-9)

So in the parable there is a sower and four types of soils. The sower is out to grow grain. We assume he can distinguish between the types of soil.

The sower in the parable certainly doesn’t seem to care about where he sows. This stands out in what Jesus says about him. He throws the seed on the path, on rocky ground and among thorns. The last place he sows is the only one that makes sense. Lastly he also sows on good soil.

Why would a sower ever want to throw seeds down on the first three places?

The last place however certainly produces a bumper crop. Thirty, sixty and up to one hundred times the amount of grain that he put down seed for.

Jesus speaks to those who have ears to hear. Perhaps not all have ears to hear. Perhaps they are given the ability to hear and understand what he is talking about. He encourages these people to hear his message.

I can’t imagine most would understand what Jesus was talking about.

[10] And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. (Mk 4.10)

Jesus’ disciples ask him, ‘what’s with all the parables?’ Why are you using parables and can you help us understand them?

We need Jesus and God’s Spirit to understand God’s word.

[11] And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, [12] so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” (Mk 4:10-12)

Those on the inside (Jesus’ disciples) are given the secrets of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is therefore not for everyone. Neither is it for everyone to understand.

Those on the outside however are given parables. Jesus says he gives the parables so they may hear, but not understand the secret of the kingdom of God they contain. They are given parables so they may not perceive and understand.

If they did perceive and understand, they would be forgiven. Forgiven for their sins presumably. Forgiven and gain entrance into the kingdom. So their lack of understanding the parables is a sign of their continued judgment.

Presumably, understanding parables involves accepting Jesus, learning to seek him for understanding and apply his teaching.

I wonder how many walked away from him because they gave up on him. Those who stayed were different.

[13] And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? (Mk 4:13)

The disciples don’t get it and Jesus wonders how they could understand all of them if they struggle with this one. He’s not happy.

On the other hand, we should be comforted by this if there are some parables that stump us. Even the disciples didn’t understand every parable when they first heard them. They come to Jesus and he explains it for them.

[14] The sower sows the word. (Mk 4:14)

The seed is the word of God. The gospel of the kingdom. The sower in this gospel remains unidentified. Biblically the greatest sower is God himself.

[15] And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. (Mk 4:15)

The different soils represent people. Those who are represented by the path never had a chance because Satan takes away the word in them.

Gospel ministry involves Spiritual warfare.

So the sower, sows (say that three times quickly) his seed down on the path. He knows Satan will immediately catch it up, but he does it anyhow.

[16] And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. [17] And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (Mk 4:16-17)

The next type of people hear and receive it. But their response is short lived. They face outside pressures. They are tested, and yes God’s people face tribulation and persecution, and they fall away.

This response should scare us.

[18] And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, [19] but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Mk 4:18-19)

These are a similar breed. But they face trials of a different kind. They face internal desires for other things. ‘Cares of the world’ and desire for ‘riches’ and other things. These choke the word. They do not grow or bear fruit.

God’s people are marked by some sort of ongoing growth throughout their lives.

[20] But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” (Mk 4:20)

Here are the ones who hear the word. They accept it and it bears fruit. The gospel bears fruit in peoples lives. Which is a great incentive to preach the word.

One might say at this point. ‘Okay I understand, but I need to understand it still further. I have questions.’ The parable makes you think and dwell on what Jesus point of application is.

About Jesus

41 Grain field crop

Quite often the interpretation and application of this parable involves getting the audience to think of themselves as representing one or more of the four different soil types. It is usually assumed any one person experiences different times and struggles in their life which work against the word of God bearing its fruit in their lives.

For the audience who believes and understands, there stands a warning to beware the second and third examples of soil. Those experiencing trials and persecution are warned to persevere. Those struggling with desires for other things are warned about the power they have over their lives. They might want to check they bear fruit as the last example does. Never resting in that if they think so, but always listening to Jesus and accepting his word.

This is fine and people have been encouraged by this way of reading the parable.

More recently I struggle to think this is the main point Jesus originally wanted to teach from the parable.

I think the parable could be approached from different perspectives. I think the main point of the parable is for the sowers, not for the soils. By this I mean, the disciples and anyone who preaches God’s word to varied audiences.

Jesus shares his word with the many different kinds of people. The gospel of course should go out to all nations and people types. Yes, some people are like paths, rocky ground and among thorns. None the less throw it out there, throw the seed of life everywhere.

When Jesus shares to people he knows many will not respond favourably.

The disciples will sow the message of the gospel as well. Its for them to know the gospel will also receive varied responses. Mostly negative, but they will be encouraged to hear of the few who do respond and will be worth it.

Jesus knows the peoples lack of understanding is a form of judgment. They will not receive forgiveness. Inherent in every gospel message whether it mentions salvation or not is the opportunity for people to be forgiven.

Jesus sows the seed to people who won’t be forgiven. He also sows in good places where he knows they will be forgiven and he will receive a good return far out weighing what he sowed in the first place.

So go out and throw the seed wherever you can.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.