Matthew 13 records Jesus’ use of parables to teach the crowds and His disciples. These parables set out principles related to the kingdom of heaven. The first parable Jesus uses describes a sower scattering seed that falls on four kinds of soil. When the disciples ask Jesus about the use of parables, Jesus answers and explains the meaning of the parable of the sower.
The first three soils (along the path, rocky ground, and among thorns) depict unproductive hearing. Productive hearing always produces fruit, but in varying quantities (one hundred, sixty, and thirty fold). Christ’s description of the soils leads many readers to dub this the “parable of the soils.” However, Christ defines the emphasis with His first statement, “Hear then the parable of the sower.”
Jesus uses the imperative mood with the verb “hear” strengthened by using the second person personal pronoun. A literal reading renders Christ’s words, “You therefore hear.” To whom does Jesus address this command? Verses 10-11 answer that question. The disciples asked Christ about His use of parables and His response includes the command to hear.
Instead of calling this the parable of the soils, Jesus draws attention to the sower. As Jesus works through the various “soils,” all soils receive “the word.” Verse 19 specifies that “word” with the clarifying statement, “of the kingdom.” The sower, therefore, sows the word of the kingdom.
To whom does such a responsibility belong? Again, verse 11 steers the understanding. Jesus states that the disciples received ability to “know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” Setting this alongside Acts 28:31 (“[Paul was] proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”) and Ephesians 3:1-7, “kingdom of heaven/God” ultimately becomes synonymous with “the gospel.”
Therefore, the thrust of this parable instructs those delivering the gospel. Jesus describes the unproductive hearers to encourage gospel-bearers to continue sowing the Word. Why? Because what falls on the good soil will produce abundantly.
As a disciple-maker (that is, any true follower of Christ – Matthew 28:18-20), fulfill your responsibility (sowing the gospel) regardless of the response (differing soils).
Why is this truth so important? The disciples of Christ anticipated that the Messiah would immediately establish His kingdom and overthrow all opposition (a mindset addressed in the following parable of wheat and weeds). As Jesus prepares them to be instruments in establishing the Church, He reshapes their thinking. Not everyone will want to hear the good news. But, the varied response does not relieve the responsibility for proclamation.
This truth presents a timely message to disciples of Christ. As society becomes more hostile to the gospel and those proclaiming it, Jesus commands that we HEAR the parable of the sower: Regardless of the response, keep sowing.
Fulfill your responsibility regardless of the response.
Responsibility: Spread the Word broadly.
Response: Determined by the heart-condition of the hearers. (This will be unpacked in following posts.)