Mark 4:3-20, RSV “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
…”And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown; when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which is sown in them. And these in like manner are the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 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. And others are the ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
This parable is unique, it it the only one that Jesus fully explains, perhaps because this is the first parable that he tells. After telling it to the crowd, and after they have dispersed, the disciples come to Jesus and ask him why he used a parable, and what is its meaning. Jesus truly seems surprised that they don’t understand, after all, he has been teaching them for a while now, they should have some inkling. Millennia later we are grateful for his explanation, else it would still be confusing. Let’s look at both the teaching and the meaning together.
“A sower went out to sow.” – “The sower sows the word.” – Simple enough. A sower sows seeds to grow into crops; the sower of the Word speaks the Word of Truth to build a base of believers. The first step in that long, arduous journey, right? Not so. Long before the sower can do his work there is much that needs to be done, as anyone who has started a new garden knows. This summer I will be starting a patch to grow berries (my wife had recently fallen in love with blackberries), some will be planted from roots, others (low-bush blueberries) must be started from seed. Before I can plant either I will have to remove what is already growing there, remove rocks and stones, till the soil to make the planting and growth easier, and augment the soil to encourage acid-loving plants to grow. In the same way, much work has to be done ahead of sowing the Word, and God knew this. Prior to sending the sowers out (the Apostles, Disciples, etc.) God had to prepare his people to receive them. There were the Judges, Prophets, and Kings, who did the work of making the people of God fertile and ready to both receive and sow the Word of God to other nations.
“some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it” – “these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown; when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which is sown in them.” – These are the people for whom it “goes in one ear and out the other”, they simply have no interest in Godly things. They are too busy. These are the people who tell you that if God is real he won’t turn them away because they haven’t done anything really bad. All of those rules don’t apply today, we’re more enlightened. It’s not God’s business who they have sex with, when, or how often, sex has nothing to do with religion. Sound familiar?
“Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away.” – ” the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 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.” – You know these people, you’ve seen them often. They come to church for a little while, maybe they get really involved in what is happening. But, then, something happens, either at church, or in their lives. They stop coming. I’ve seen it happen in my church countless times. The priest says something from the pulpit that they disagree with, so they leave; maybe in search of of a preacher who says what they want to hear; maybe going nowhere else. They’re looking for community, not spirituality, and when the sun burns them they just turn away. They may repeat this several times until they give up, or find someplace that tells them what they want to hear, then they say, “this is the truth.”
“Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.” – “the ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” – Ah, the temptations of the world – TV, movies, sex, drink, drugs, money, things. In the 60’s it was called the Suburban Lifestyle; it’s also been referred to as materialism, capitalism, and the popular saying, “he who dies with the most things wins!” Now, understand, I am not saying any of these things are inherently bad, but there is a time and place for everything. Jesus told us that we must be willing to put God first, everything else must take a back seat, which may even lead to the severing of family ties. It doesn’t mean that you have to forsake everything in this world, though for some that is their calling, but in everything God must not only come first, but be intertwined in everything else. Are the shows and movies you watch complimentary to your faith? Even Jesus drank wine, but do you do so to drunkenness, where you are no longer in control of your words or actions? Having money or things is not bad, when done to acquire the needs of your life, but are you going beyond the needs and spending so much on your “wants” that you do so to the detriment of your fellow man? Do you give alms before you buy “wants”? Do you “need” a $500k home when your neighbor has none? Do you need to eat lobster when your neighbor can’t afford tuna? Do you need a Mercedes when your neighbor can’t afford public transport? Now, I’m not saying to reject these things but, rather, to put them into perspective, and into their proper place. Jesus knew this, for his friend Lazarus was quite wealth, as was Nicodemus, but they used their wealth first to care for the needs of others, then for themselves. A $500k home is not a bad thing, if you’ve taken care of others first. You will never do away with poverty, but you must do what you can to help alleviate it.
“And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” – “those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” – This is the ideal, the ring to be reached for and grabbed. But how many of us actually make it to this point? I wish, dear reader, that I could say I achieve this all the time. Few of us do. We go back and forth among the different stages; sometimes giving into the world, sometimes questioning our church, sometimes our faith (never God, but faith). One of the problems with this verse is that people see it and immediately think it is a call to evangelism, but it is not. Not everyone is called to evangelize, just as everyone is not called to be a prophet, this is about internal growth. How strong has the Word taken hold in you? I don’t mean walking around with a smile on your face and greeting everyone with, “glory be…”, these are outward signs, whitewash on the sepulcher as Jesus said. It is what lies within that matters, for “God knows your hearts”. Do you harbor ill will against your enemies? Jesus called us to love our enemies, and to do good towards them. Do you refuse to have dealings with those you consider sinners, or do you treat them with love and compassion? Jesus said he came for the sinners, not the righteous. In the early days of the church, when Christians were executed by Rome for their faith, what eventually saved the church is when non-believers started standing up for them. Christians prayed for those who persecuted them; they bandaged their wounds, fed them, cared for them when sick. Some even paid their taxes when they could not. The people found nothing bad to say about Christians, for they loved everyone, even their enemies. If your enemy was to look at you what would they find, Jesus or Caesar?