1. The Parable of the Sower or The Parable of the Soil
In this series I am writing about two parables. I don’t mean to infer from my title that this parable is actually two, just that it is known by two names. First I will discuss the parable of the sower, then in future posts I will discuss this parable in relation to the parable of the hidden treasure.
The parable of the sower is told in three gospels, commonly called the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The parable of the hidden treasure is found only in Matthew. As we look at the parables I would like to demonstrate a principle of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) that I call Scripture Best Interprets Scripture. “Use the Bible to help interpret itself. Interpret difficult passages with clear ones. This is sometimes called the law of non-contradiction. Because the Bible is God’s word, and God is true, the Bible will not contradict itself.” i
So let us begin. For sake of space I will leave you to read the parable for yourself. I suggest you read it from all three of the gospels. It is the same parable but each gospel author tells it with some slight differences. It is my thinking that these differences clarify rather than confuse, more views give us a wider perspective. I will highlight some of these along the way.
All three gospels begin “a sower went out to sow”.
The first condition is that the seeds fell along the path and then the birds devoured them. Not unusual; birds like seed. I remember feeding pigeons as a young boy. I was fascinated by the power I held in my hand. These birds would normally never come near me but as I began to scatter seed they came from everywhere and some were even so bold as to land on my head and arm. So is the intended meaning that a farmer should take care not to waste the seed or is it to show how to attract birds? Hmmmm? Lets keep reading.
The second condition we are told is rocky ground without much soil. Luke tells us that the soil “had no moisture” So what happens to seeds under these conditions? They spring up but have no depth so when the sun is hot they wither away. Again as a young boy at my school’s science fair, I had to present a science project. Mine was radish seeds/sprouts, my experiment was something like this. I learned the basics of germination. In order for seeds to grow, they need moisture and light (but not too much). The moral? A lack of moisture plus a hot sun kills the seedlings. So wouldn't a farmer avoid this situation? You bet, farmers clear the rocks from their fields.
Third condition is some seeds fell among thorns and “the thorns grew up and choked them.” Have you noticed anything yet? Perhaps a progression? First birds eat the seeds, this is rapid they don’t even get to germinate. Then the rocky ground prevents the seedlings from developing after germination but at least they sprouted. Here the thorns are choking the plants. This takes a little more time. I planted strawberries about five years ago. Overall they are doing good. I made one small mistake though. I thought I was doing the right thing. I used my lawnmower clippings as mulch. It worked great the first couple of years. I thought I was keeping the weeds down and it did for a time. But slowly the Bermuda grass clippings I was placing in my strawberries for mulch took root. Now it is a yearly battle to pull the Bermuda grass out. The grass is choking my strawberries! I am not a very good farmer.
The fourth condition is what every farmer wants, the seeds fell on good soil and produced crops. So what does all this mean? Jesus’ disciples had the same question. Mark’s version of the disciples asking Jesus about this is informative for interpreting parables “How then will you understand all the parables?” Luke and Matthew record for us that Jesus intends for the disciples “know the secrets of the Kingdom” so shouldn't we pay attention to what Jesus is about to tell them?
i Lesson 6: Principles of Biblical Interpretation, https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-6-principles-biblical-interpretation, last accessed 4/26/2017