The Parable of the Sower
The Parable of the Sower may be the most important parable, not only because it is here that Jesus teaches us how interpret all the parables, but more so because Jesus lays out a map for building a good and noble heart. Even though Jesus explains this parable literally, we still cannot understand it without the encryption key. And even with the key, which he does clearly give us in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, you still may not understand, because it is the shape of the hole in your heart that is needed for the key to fit.
Let's first look at the key straight from Luke 15.
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
The key to the parables and to understand why Jesus Christ died for us is to know that we are sinners and we must communicate our state of repentance to him. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” says Jesus. We can't just make our heart feel repentant, we must tell him about it. He must know our repentance through prayer. Then we will know it and know his grace. When we let go of our pride by humbling ourselves, we see sin tattooed all over our souls. Without that state of being, we cannot understand the parables. We never will. We must listen to Christ through the ears of a sinner and see the new reality unfold with the eyes of the repentant heart. But let's dig into the Parable of the Sower.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
The parable's audience is the humble farmer living in us. The picture he paints here doesn't glory in celestial riches, vaulted colonnades or luxurious foods. God glories in the simple act of sowing seeds in fresh soil. Day in and day out, the Sower's strong, time-worn hand pulls handfuls of seeds from his satchel and scatters them across all the earth. They land in the soil of everyone's heart. Some sprout and some do not. Some grow and others wither. Some grow abundantly “and yield a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
While Jesus seems to explain the parable, there are still many unanswered questions. To get answers, we must listen with sinner's ears and repentant heart.
He first explains that there are those who hear the word of God, but they are on a worldly path and the devil takes the word from their hearts. Where is this God-forsaken path? It is the path of humanity. It is the path upon which all of us have walked. We must not long for the things of the world or aspire for its riches. We must long deeply for the Kingdom and its heavenly riches and cast our eyes always on Jesus. That is the narrow path. The wide gate leads to destruction. I must ask myself, “Do I long to succeed in worldly ways? Do I long for worldly love? Do I long for worldly respect?” And sadly I cry out to Jesus, “Yes I do! Turn my heart! Save me from the path of destruction, Christ Jesus!”
Next Jesus says that those of us living among the rocks receive the word with great joy, but since we have no root, after testing we fall away. Where are the rocks in our lives? What are these rocks that block us from drinking our fill of the living water. Do we ask as a sinner in great despair, “Jesus remove the stones from my heart. I am parched.” The rocks that block us from the waters are lassitude, sloth, apathy, complacency, insularity and even contentment. They keep us from the water because the living water is external to us. We must become active participants in the faith. We must be “working out our salvation in fear and trembling.” We must be living in fellowship with other believers. We must be seeking communion with Christ in the church and her sacraments. We must learn how to love. If not, our root withers.
Then there are the thorns and thistles that vie for our heart's attention. The thorns tempt us. Here Jesus clearly tells us what the thorns and thistles are so there is no mistaking them. They are “life's worries, riches and pleasures.” Does it get any clearer than that? Jesus calls us to be a poor people. We must become a poor church as well.
Finally, we are told that the good soil is a noble and good heart. It is in that soil that the word of God can flourish and produce a crop. But what is a noble and good heart? If I am a sinner how can I be noble and good? Being noble and good does not exclude our sin nature. Repentance is the most humble of acts for us sinners. It truly noble. It stoops us low to the dust. It's not for the proud and haughty to be on their knees asking forgiveness. To be noble is also to be honest, faithful, persevering, joyous, outward looking, longing for justice and loving. To be noble and good is a state of the heart. It has nothing to do with whether or not we are sinners.
Although we are all sinners, we all have the God-given capacity to be noble and good. Our hearts must confidently trod with purpose along the narrow path always veering away from sumptuous worldly riches and always toward our humble yet glorious home with our beloved Jesus Christ. If we do this the great and masterful Sower will look over his crop with great admiration and then we will know what he meant when he said to his son, “With him I am well pleased,” because living in the heart of Christ we will hear him boldly echo, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” And we will never know more joy.