Parables of Jesus
The Sower– Mark 4:26-32
He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come." He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
What is a Parable?
esus taught, strikingly, in parables. Indeed, we associate parables so closely with him that it might seem as though he had created the parable. Rather, he made brilliant use of a genre which was already of long tradition. But, what precisely is a 'parable?' A parable is a brief story with two levels of meaning. For instance, at first sight, the Sower looks like an agricultural vignette. Its true meaning has to do with reception of the gospel message.
Because we can no longer determine the setting of the Sower in the ministry of Jesus we cannot be sure of its original meaning. What is beyond doubt is that, for Mark, it is a parable of the word. It is likely that this, too, was Jesus' intent. There is notable emphasis on hearing: 'Listen!' (v 3), 'Let anyone with ears to hear listen!' (v 9). On the other hand, the parable might be characterised as a parable of the soils; it is where the seed falls and what happens to it that are decisive.
The first part of the Sower (vv 4-7) is negative - the grain and seedlings and young plants perish; the second (v 8) is positive - the rest of the grain flourishes and the yield is startling. The farmer sowed haphazardly: on the path, on rocks, among thorns - also, happily, on fertile soil. Not a bright farmer! Jesus' audience would have chuckled. Here is the incongruous, a feature of several parables. It effectively attracts the hearer's attention - as in the joke form. The story had something other than farming in mind. It was about the hearers of the word - represented by the different soils. The hearer was exhorted to receive the word in faith and keep it with steadfastness.
The explanation of the Sower (vv 14-20) is a commentary which takes up and explains the key phrases of the parable. Its language shows it to be a creation of the early Church, and it reflects the missionary experience of early Christians. Noteworthy is the attention to the various types of soil. But this was already a feature of the parable. The seed is the gospel preaching. The word is sown in the hearers: it is 'seeded' in them. Four categories of hearers are distinguished in terms of where the seed had fallen: 'on the path,' ‘on rocky ground,’ ‘among thorns’ and on 'the good soil’. The fate of the word was different in each case. The explanation is there because Christians had, perforce, to acknowledge that few had taken to heart Jesus' word. They asked the question: Why such a gulf between themselves and those who would not see? They found an answer in this parable. How could they have expected it to be otherwise? Think of what happens when the sower scatters the seed. Not every seed bears fruit. Much is lost for one reason or other. This understanding then led them to delineate the forms of resistance to the word. Many people were like those on the path: the word did not reach them, as though it had been swept away at the very moment of receiving. Or, many people seemed like shallow growth: they were ready to receive but were unable to persevere. Or, many people were like seed under thorns: they heard, but the word lost its significance because they were choked by cares and distractions. The major concern of the explanation was the structure of human life itself. The shallow mind, the hard heart, worldly preoccupation, persecution - these were precisely the obstacles which frustrated the growth of faith. The explanation presupposed a time when Christian faith was tested by such factors. Is our situation so very different? The explanation offered warning - and encouragement (v 20). And Mark presented it as a word of Jesus. It is a word of the Lord to us.
This is the Story of Jesus drawn from the four Evangelists
Gospel passages accompanied by a number of brief commentaries