The Parable of the Sower, also known as the Parable of the Soils, or, the Parable of the Four Soils, is one of the few parables which was explained by Jesus Himself, exclusively to His twelve disciples. This SpiritualRay article throws light on the meaning of this parable and emphasizes on the need to understand it to the core.
Did You Know?
It was only after speaking the Parable of the Sower, that Jesus revealed the Purpose of the Parables to His disciples. He said, according to Mark 4:10-12 (ESV), “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.'”
The Bible contains a collection of the memorable parables spoken by Jesus during His ministry. He often communicated through simple and heartfelt stories in order to bring forth a quintessential message that came from the kingdom of God. While there were some among His audiences who failed to understand the implication of His parables, some perceived it quite perfectly. But it became very clear after understanding the Parable of the Sower, that Jesus’ aim behind delivering these parables was not confined to only understanding their meanings, but also to live by what they taught.
The Parable of the Sower, from a bird’s-eye view, seems to be a very simplistic story of a sower who does his job of sowing seeds. The whole process itself calls for hits and misses. For instance, sowing often calls for threats in the form of birds, weeds, thorns, sunlight, etc., but the seeds who manage to surpass it all and germinate in the “good” soil are those that thrive into being fruitful. This is just the way it has always been, isn’t it? Such is the beauty of Jesus’ choice of plots and characters for His parables. He chooses the most basic examples from everyday life, and turns those examples into some extraordinary moral lessons.
The Parable of the Sower
This parable is mentioned in three Gospels in the New Testament: The Gospels of Mark, Luke, and Matthew. The following are the excerpts from these Gospels that contain the Parable of the Sower and its explanation by Christ Himself.
Gospel of Mark
Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, 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 did not have 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 produced 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 that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones 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 deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
Gospel of Luke
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
― Luke 8:4-8, English Standard Version
Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
― Luke 8:11-15, English Standard Version
Gospel of Matthew
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Meaning, Explanation, and Moral Implication
We are fortunate enough to have had the blessing that Jesus Himself went ahead and explained the meaning of this parable in His own words, or else, like some other parables, this one too, would have been lost in the midst of various speculations and translations of scholars and “experts”. The ultimate expert is none other than He who has delivered the parable in the first place.
Clearly, the sower in this parable is none other than Jesus Himself. The seeds refer to the word of God, and the different kinds of soils where the seeds fell, refer to the different types of hearts of the people who hear the word of God. For they all were willing to hear, but their hearts were receptive to the word of God in different ways. Let us understand the four types of soils―our human perception of the word of God, and the fate of the seeds that fell on them―the word of God, briefly, one by one.
1. Seeds that fell along the path
Let us first begin from the first kind of soil, the path where the seeds fell and were devoured by the birds. These paths are the listeners with hardened hearts, for they hear the word of God, but don’t listen carefully enough to understand. And whatever little they retain in their hearts, the devil (symbolized by the birds) comes and snatches away from their hearts and minds, lest they should not be saved. The soil on the path is synonymous with those who feel alien to the word of God and fail to understand it, and within minutes, the wicked ones come and take away these words of guidance and enlightenment from them.
2. Seeds that fell on rocky ground
The seeds that fell on the rocky ground symbolize those who gladly receive the word of God, but lack the depth and understanding to sustain it within themselves. In the parable, the seed successfully sprang because of the thin layer of soil that lay on the rocky ground, however, because the soil lacked the depth, as soon as the scorching sun hit the plant, it withered. The sun is symbolic of the tribulations and trials that we face in life, and those who lack the depth, the trust in the word of God, wither away easily.
3. Seeds that fell among thorns
The thorns are symbolic of the alluring distractions of this world. Although, in this case, the seed had the ground that provided enough nourishment for it to dwell, it was cast in the midst of thorns. This is in reference to those believers who hear the word of the Lord, accept it, and willingly decide to follow it, but they succumb to the malicious attractions of the world, the riches, fame, wealth, and thereby choke due to their shallow desires. These people give more importance to the mortal world than the words that could give them eternal life, therefore, they were destroyed by the world before they could turn fruitful enough to be worthy of the heaven above.
4. Seeds that fell into good soil
The seeds that fell into the good soil are those listeners who not only heard, but accepted, and lived by the word of God all their lives, hence, turning out to be fruitful and yielding. They didn’t doubt the word, neither did they respond to the allurement of this world. For them, the true riches lie in the kingdom of God for they are eternal, while the riches of this world are mortal, perishable, and can be easily stolen.
The purpose of a seed is to be fruitful, to produce life. And it is with this very purpose that the sower plants it in the soil. While in the parable, the seeds had no free will of their own and their fate could be attributed to their destiny, in case of mankind, the gift of freewill could act both as a blessing and a curse. God gives us the choice to choose our soil. Some choose to avoid His will completely, others admire the thought but don’t dwell on it, those who decide to dwell on it get distracted by the deceptive allurements of the world, and eventually only the true and faithful to God sustain long enough to be able to bear fruit. Now, note that the parable clearly states the yield of all seeds to be different. “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” This just implies that the quality of the soil may vary, based on which the yield varies, however, what is important is that the sown seed bears fruit to its best capacity. Which means, we who are nourished and enlightened by His word, should spread His word and be fruitful at our best capacity.
The Parable of the Sower invariably provides the basis for understanding all the parables given in the Bible. It emphasizes on the fact that it is the faith, belief, and acceptance of a person’s heart that draws/drives a person closer/farther from God. God’s word is accessible to one and all, but the capability to understand, sustain, and live by it is not same in all people. Therefore, it is nothing but regular learning and accepting the word of God, that will give us the nourishment of the good soil, to make us fruitful in our lives. Amen.