Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 26. Watch the Ground
Mt 13:3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed
The Parable of the Sower, as it is so often called, is the second of the real parables that appear in Matthew and is unique in that a) it comes in two parts – first the story (v.3-10), then later the explanation (v.18-23) and b) those two parts are divided by an explanation to his disciples (v.11-17) why he uses parables and so, c) it becomes the longest parable recorded. What is also strange is that it really isn’t a parable about a Sower – although the farmer is key to what happens – and in some senses not about the seed – although that is also important – but it is really all about the different sorts of ground that the farmer encounters. There have also been a variety of interpretations given by commentators for what it really is all about.
Let’s deal with the middle, explanation verses first. The disciples ask, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (v.10). Jesus’ answer is strange and in different parts. First, the things of the kingdom (which is what the parables are all about) are for Jesus’ followers not the world (v.11). Second, they are for those who have submitted to him and have already received from him so, “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.” (v.12) Third, they come with a measure of lack of clarity if you haven’t already come to God so people can hear the words but not hear the meaning (v.13-16). They need the help of the Holy Spirit to bring understanding and that only comes after a person has already decided to follow Jesus (v.16,17)
Very well, on to the parable itself. First of all the basic description of what the story is about: it is about a farmer who went out with a bag on his back and he would, by hand, sprinkle the seed on the ground in his field. (v.3)
So, second, the parable shows us four sorts of ground – a hard-track path (v.4), rocky ground with hardly any soil (5), ground covered with thorns (v.7) and finally on good soil (v.8)
But then, third, if we look again, we see what happens to the seed when it falls on each of those four sorts of ground, i.e. the effect of the ground on the seed. First, that which falls on the path, just lays there until the birds see it and eat it up (v.4). Then, second, on the rocky soil, it does germinate and sprout but because it has no depth, when the sun comes out it quickly withers (v.5,6). Then, third, among the thorns, it does germinate but it is soon choked by those thorns (v.7). It was only, fourth, on the good soil that the seed was able to germinate, grow up and produce a good crop (v.8)
Then, after he has given reasons for using parables, he spells out the meaning of the four parts of the story (v.18)
First, the seed on the path (v.19) and the birds eating it, represents “when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.”
Second, the seed that fell on rocky places (v.20) “is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” (v.21
Third, the seed that fell among the thorns (v.22) “is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”
Finally (v.23) “the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
So to summarise, the ground represents four different sorts of people, who each respond in different ways when the seed is sown, the word of God is spoken to them. One doesn’t understand because he is hard hearted. One appears to receive it joyfully but never allows it to go deep and bring deep transformation, so when the pressures of life arise, the word quickly dies. One seems to receive it but actually, again, because it doesn’t go deep, all the worries of his life and personal concerns stifle the word. It is only the man with a good, open heart, who receives the word of God and allows it to bring much fruit in the form of a changed life and a life that serves and brings the fruit of God’s blessing into the world.
Now here comes the tricky bit. All of that, because Jesus explains it so simply, may seem very straight forward, but why is he telling it? He doesn’t apply it any further than he has done in our verses we’ve considered.
Well, there is a large crowd before him (13:2) but the explanation of the parable is only for the disciples who are close to Jesus. Perhaps the first challenge is that if we really want to understand God’s word, we need to remain close to Jesus in prayer on a daily basis. It is only as we seek to be close to him will we find that his Holy Spirit will teach us.
Perhaps the second challenge is to ask ourselves what sort of ‘ground’ are we? Is my heart truly open to the Lord, am I truly wanting his will for my life, or am I set in my ways, in my thinking (with a hard heart)? The prophet Jeremiah challenged his people to break up the fallow or hard ground and cut open their hearts (Jer 4:3,4) so they could receive God’s word and be changed. That is all about repentance. Am I a ‘shallow’ person who only allows the things of God to touch me superficially so the word never really has a chance to release faith in me and transform me? Am I a worldly individual who is more concerned with enjoying modern culture than I am on taking in and being transformed by the word of God? Is this parable a self-diagnostic tool from God, and if it is, will we ‘run the software’ and allow it to bring the truth to the surface?