Right off the bat, we should recognize this isn’t actually a parable of a sower, but the “parable of the soils.” As the context (and even Jesus’s explanation) makes clear, the sower is, in fact, God. The variable of the parable is the soil and not the sower; therefore the point of the parable would not be that we are the ones sowing seed, but that God is sowing the seed. Yet time and time again, I encounter the teachings around this parable to be people are going to respond differently to your seed-sowing.
Let us be clear: The parable is not a reaffirmation of all the things you believe; the parable is a challenge to us to be changed and refined.
Second, it would be helpful to know Jesus is simply following a very common template used in rabbinical teachings. Rabbis would often refer to what they called “the four different learners” in their teaching. Some examples we know of are the “sponge” (takes in everything; keeps everything), the “funnel” (takes in everything; keeps nothing), the “strainer" (takes in everything; keeps the bad), and the “sieve" (takes in everything, keeps the good). Another example would be the quick learner/slow doer, the quick learner/quick doer, the slow learner/quick doer, and the slow learner/slow doer. The point of these templates is to ask the question: which learner are you?
The point of the parable is the challenge to consider which soil you are.
Jesus even goes on to explain the parable. There are four soils:
THE PATH: Doesn’t understand; the evil one snatches it away.
THE ROCKS: Understands, but has no depth; cannot withstand hardship.
THE THORNS: Understands, but cannot let go of idolatry.
THE GOOD SOIL: Understands and does, producing a crop.
Which soil are you?
But even the disciples’ question is informative. They ask Jesus why He teaches in parables and He answers with a cryptic quotation from Isaiah 6, simply saying, “I teach them in parables so that they won’t understand.” Wow. Thanks, Jesus.
But even that is a great teaching point. Jesus’s larger point in the parable appears to be that the truth of the Kingdom of Heaven is such that people have to do the work of “tilling their soil” so they can receive the seed being sown. If you aren’t willing to prepare your soil, then it’s really easy to have ears that cannot hear and eyes that cannot see.
How will you prepare your soil if you are THE PATH? Look at Hosea 10:
Sow righteousness for yourselves,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
and showers his righteousness on you.
Be generous; sow tzedekah.
How will you prepare your soil if you are THE ROCKS? See Isaiah 5:
Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw
and as dry grass sinks down in the flames,
so their roots will decay
and their flowers blow away like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty
and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Do you want/need deep roots? Put your resources in the law of the LORD Almighty (see also Jeremiah 17 and Ezekiel 17 for discussion about building deep roots).
How will you prepare your soil if you are THE THORNS? Check out Jeremiah 4:
“Break up your unplowed ground
and do not sow among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
circumcise your hearts,
you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
because of the evil you have done—
burn with no one to quench it.”
Turn away from your idolatry — the idols of worry and wealth — and put your faith into action.
It appears Jesus is inviting the people to prepare their soil. Of course, it will require some work and you may have noticed I pulled all of my thoughts from the Text. And if I know anything about farming (and I don’t, but I have experienced this firsthand in Israel), the preparation of your soil is something that must be done each year, all year long.
I have some work to do on my soil.
He who has ears, let him hear.