Matthew 13:3-4, 18-19 (NIV) Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”
This parable is one of a rarer type than many that Jesus told. Instead of focusing on a single point, it has a large number of symbols and a cluster of points that Jesus is making. In this particular parable, the cluster of points is specifically about how individuals respond to the message about God’s kingdom. Remember that, even in Jesus’ day, His teachings were taken seriously and acted on by only a portion of those who heard Him.
In this parable, Jesus uses the figure of a farmer sowing grain. The farmer’s goal in sowing grains is actually to produce more grain. As each seed germinates in the ground and grows, it produces a head full of the new grain, some of which will be consumed, and the rest will be stored for planting the following year.
In those days seeds were sown by the farmer broadcasting (throwing) them across plowed and prepared ground. The seed would fall into the broken soil and start to germinate. The farmer’s target in sowing the seed was always the prepared soil. But, due to the inexactness of the broadcasting method, there was always some seed that fell outside of the target field, and onto ground that had not been prepared to receive it.
The first kind of unprepared soil that Jesus includes in the parable is the hard-packed soil of the path that ran between fields. This soil had been drenched by rain, baked by the sun, and packed down by generations of feet, of both people and animals, making it hard as a rock, and impossible for any seed to penetrate. When any seeds landed on it, they just lay there until the birds came along to eat them.
Jesus tells us that this ground represents those who had no understanding of the things of God’s kingdom, so the ideas, teachings, and imagery that Jesus brought to them had no meaning to them, and found no place in their hearts that they could take root. Soon the enemy comes and snatches those ideas away, so that they can never start to grow.
Jesus’ crowds always contained some whose hearts were too hard for His message of the kingdom to penetrate. Some of those hearts were hardened by sin. Others, like those of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, were made impenetrable by a theology that closed them off from the “new” ideas that Jesus was bringing forth.
Jesus was fully aware that, at least for the moment, those hearts were not going to receive His truths. Even though those people were in the crowd, even though they listened to His words, they were not the people to whom He was directing His teaching; they were not the field where He was aiming His seed.
Events could happen in the future that might possibly break up the hardness of their hearts and make them receptive, kind of like a farmer who decides to expand his fields and so plows up and starts to work the ground that was once a path. But Jesus’ time was short. Right now, He was purposefully directing His efforts where they would do the most good: those hearts that were already open to what He was teaching.
Father, sometimes it can be discouraging for us to see our efforts at sharing the good news of the kingdom simply bounce off of the hearts of those we are trying to reach. But it helps to know that the problem might just be that their hearts are too hard for the word to penetrate, and that throwing more and more seed out there just draws more birds. But that soil can be broken up if we approach them differently, and partner with You, the one who can use the Holy Spirit to convict those hearts of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11), potentially breaking up the soil and making it receptive. Help us to not just give up or grow frustrated, but to partner with You, so that together we can work effectively, and ultimately reap a harvest. Amen.