The Sower, Mark 4:3-9 A spiritual diagnostic tool

Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, [and it was trodden down– Luke 8:5] 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 [Luke 8:6 because it lacked moisture]. 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 hundred fold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.


In Matthew 13 we see that the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables. Jesus responded that he was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah which says (vs 14b-17):

By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive; For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be comforted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them.

So why would this be so? Jesus is telling us, if we would only hear and see, for in the next instant he begins to explain the parable to the disciples. We must make compost for the good news to sink into the hearts of the people. It is a matter of preparation and timing.

Like throwing pearls to swine, the word will not be understood and properly received if the ground of the heart is not first prepared.We are given a diagnostic tool:
Verse 14: “The sower sows the word.” We understand this to be sowing the Word of God, the good news. The seed is the word and the ground is us.

There are four kinds of soil or ground. Some seeds fell by the path and the birds came and ate it. In verse 15 Satan immediately takes the newly sown word out of the people’s hearts just as in the parable when the birds took it and ate it. Unprepared people hear something they do not understand assume it is nonsense or misunderstand it in some convoluted way.

Luke the physician points out that the ground was trodden down. After all, it was along a well trodden path. We are left with a poser: What do we do in order to better repair the situation so the word/logos/reality be better received? What is Luke trying to convey?

The thought which immediately comes to mind is to put down more seed than the birds can eat. Some will take hold. But the ground is packed down from much business of to-and-fro. In gardening terms we might want to lightly rake the ground to keep the soil receptive to the seed.

The solution may be to wait until frenetic energy and stress of daily life has ceased and hearing of the word can take place. When the heart is a busy path, it is not ready to hear the word of God and understand. Although we are to pray without ceasing, we also are to set ourselves apart regularly to pray and meditate on our Lord or we become just a busy path.

Other seed fell on rocky ground. Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.

We often only think we understand. Jesus is cautioning us against shallowness of faith.

Other seed fell on rocky ground and the sun rose and scorched it. Without root and no water, it withered away. People with rocky ground for their hearts immediately receive the word with gladness. The adversary doesn’t immediately get the seed this time but the person for whom the message is sent snatches it up. However, the Word is not rooted within them and when affliction and persecution occur for the word’s sake they are offended. These are “fair weather” believers who think everything should always go smoothly now that they believe. John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress described this type of person.

What are we to do with “fair weather” believers? After all, they did receive the word gladly. It hurts us when we see people turning away from their faith. It isn’t like they never had it. Perhaps they will need time to feed the pigs before coming back as the prodigal son. But what can we do for our part?

Rocky ground needs shade, soil and water if it is to be prepared to take the word and thrive. In short, it needs a safe nurturing place. The safe place itself is a quality of God’s abiding love. This love needs to become so permeated into the heart that external circumstances cannot unsettle the relationship with God, and faith is secure.

Faith is evidence of things unseen. It is one thing to believe a thing but it is another to have the faith to continue on when all seems to go awry. The safe place which is needed is as the sheep beside the quiet waters. The safe place is a restored soul. The safe place becomes the pearl of greatest price and the affliction and persecution does not cause one to waver as the soul remains in that spirit of rest.

We water the ground with our prayers. We provide shade from the heat of the day as we take courage that God’s love can be expressed through us and we choose to provide friendly conversation. Encourage ourselves and one another that intensity of activity, as with scorching heat, is not the answer. Out of being one who is loved and loving does the appropriate level of effort and energy get expended. We provide soil as we continue to be supportive with whatever means we have available. Do not scorn the little things you may do for it is all a vital part of developing rich soil.

Thirdly, seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it– thorns that prick with lies, deceits and taunts and worries and cares of this world. What are we to do to intercede for these people? A very proven effective approach is to ask our Creative Creator, our parent originator, to provide a protective hedge around these people so that the thorns cannot prick. Or, as my daughter-in-law once said, to grow a thick fur for a thick fur would protect us from all sorts of buffeting and attack.

Last but not least, the soil falls on good soil yielding thirty, sixty and a hundred fold. And as we continue to worship, pray, meditate on the Word and fellowship in God’s love with those whom we meet, we continue to yield for our Lord, the connectedness, peace harmony, belonging we all seek. Amen and amen.