The parable of the sower is rich teaching. Jesus tells the story of a farmer who sows seed, and he focuses on what happens with the seed based on four conditions where it lands: the pathway, the sandy soil, the weeds, and the cultivated ground.
Then, Jesus offers a spiritual rendition of the scenarios. (Read it in Matthew 13:18-23.) He contrasts the effects of the pathway, sandy soil, and weed-ridden ground with the cultivated land to explain why the seed will not grow. His discourse is somewhat inductive as well, as though to clarify that the word of God flourishes only in good ground—resultant of deeply planted seed, wholesome soil, and weeded ground.
But there’s more.
Seeing What’s Possible
There is none of us who reads this parable and does not say in our hearts, “I want to be good ground.” It is because we truly desire to please God and know that we worship him best with the beauty of holy lives. Yet the holy life is gradually gained, or lifelong in scope. We live in a constant tug-o-war of yielding to the Holy Spirit or our carnal desires.
This is what makes the parable so pertinent to our devotion: it envisions ideal spirituality. It shows us a picture of the heart in which faith is permitted to deeply implant itself and flourish.
A parable is a comparison, and Jesus used them masterfully. I do not seek to explain this parable; instead, I wish to draw attention to Jesus’s pedagogy. What is interesting with the sower parable is his use of contrast to create an appreciable and lasting point in the minds of his hearers. He leads us through the three adverse conditions to help us better understand the character of a good heart.
I think that’s important because sometimes envisioning the ideal is difficult. We can theoretically understand ideal conditions but have no clue about how to attain them or have no expectation because we’ve always lived in defeated circumstances where the ideal was merely surviving, not thriving.
Could I Ever…
My sister relocated with her job and purchased a home with a large backyard that was completely overgrown with weeds, thicket, and trees. I would often stand on the deck and imagine what the yard would actually look like with grass and recreational spaces.
It is not unlike outsiders who want to know more about Christ but doubt they could ever live as a Christian. It is not unlike Christians who wonder how they might ever overcome certain sin patterns or live a joyfully devout spiritual life. So God envisions it for us. He has shown us the fruit of the Spirit, the love of God, Spirit-empowered ministry, and Jesus Christ himself.
It is an act of his grace to first say, “Let me show you why this isn’t working for you.” Let me show you why you’re frustrated in this area…why your efforts consistently fail here. It is because (back to the parable) this is unwholesome soil; this is weeds; and this isn’t even planted. “But now let me show you what you’ve really been wanting!”
You see, God gets us to desire his vision for us by using where we are to point the way to something better. We often dream and say, “Now wouldn’t it be good if…” To that God says, “That’s it!—and it is for you.”
And what is for us? A fertile heart with a bumper crop of righteousness. It will be the result of our being conscientiously introspective, determined to please the Lord, and open to the Spirit’s work in our hearts.
In Mark 10, after the rich young ruler parted ways with Jesus, the Lord exclaims, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 23) Having everything in this life, we could end up bankrupt in the next because our hearts are spiritually unkempt, thus unproductive.
But Jesus didn’t end it there: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible” (v. 27). God has the power to make us see differently, to change our minds, to help us groom our hearts for godliness.