Understand this Parable or Understand None of Them?

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by Mary C. Findley

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James Tissot, “The Sower,” Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

In Mark Ch 4 is the parable of the sower. Many people focus on Jesus’ ministry to sinners and the unclean and say how loving and inclusive He was. They say we mustn’t judge people, can’t know their hearts, etc. Just as a side note, lepers, the woman with the issue of blood, the woman who wept and anointed Jesus’ feet — Jesus accepted the touch of these people and they were cleansed by Him, not left “unjudged.” In more than one case, he commented that sins were forgiven and that people had faith for that to happen. But that’s a side issue. Back to the main discourse — the parable about which Jesus said, paraphrasing, “If you don’t get this one, how will you get any of my other teachings?”

But the Parable of the Sower is Jesus’ analysis of man’s heart, since that’s what the soil is. He sows the seed equally, if we take the parable at face value. It’s the reception by the soil that is the focus. The ground may even have received equal amounts, though we’ll talk more about that later.

The parable is about the reception by the soil. It doesn’t even say there were different kinds of soil. Just different conditions the soil had gotten into. It doesn’t even say whose “fault” it was that the soil got that way. Seed came down on it, so there was potential for all the soil regardless of condition. The soil isn’t blamed or excused for its circumstances. It’s given seed. It’s supposed to be soil and do what soil does. Give seed a medium in which to grow. Later on in Mark 4 Jesus says that the sower himself doesn’t really understand the process by which seeds germinate and grow in soil. The soil does it without effort. It’s just the vessel into which the seed is placed.

Roads are hard. They are intentionally packed down and cleared off and made the way they are for a purpose. But a dirt road is still, after all, dirt. Potentially seeds could grow there. And plants can take root and give soil strength and firmness, too, preventing erosion. But we learn here that Satan can take away a message God spreads from certain kinds of hearts. That sounds scary. Why doesn’t everyone get saved? How can God let that happen — let the Word get snatched out of someone’s life? Seems like it’s more up to the soil than to Satan. Maybe it has to do with humility and not fighting for your autonomy.

Jesus quotes the Old Testament and says people are hard-hearted about receiving the Word. They see and hear but they don’t perceive and understand or take it in and truly receive it. The hardness of heart thing has bothered people since Pharaoh. Seems like it’s on us not to get the process started and then it won’t be an issue. Stop arguing about the past. It can’t be changed. And stop dwelling on other people’s experiences and how God may or may not have dealt with them. Focus on your own soil. Be prepared to change if you need to so that you can receive what you need to do what you’re supposed to do.

Soil among the rocks is weak. It has trouble sticking together. It’s distracted, unfocused, pulled in different directions. Soil among thorns is letting those distractions take root and steal resources. It’s focused on things and externals rather than on the seed. There’s no room left for a good crop. The bad one’s taking up too much space.

Good soil doesn’t work. It just is. It hears and accepts and fruit comes naturally. No effort.

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Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio. Public Domain. Photograph by Daderot. Wikimedia Commons

Note that right after the sower comes the lamp. We seem to have backwards ideas about this light. It will shine. We don’t make it do the shining. All we can do is diminish it. We don’t have to work on getting it to shine. We have to avoid covering it up. Seems silly that anyone would, but Jesus wouldn’t tell us this parable if it wasn’t a problem. We are all worried about doing the shining. But what we really have to do is stop being an obstacle. Like the soil just has to be soil and then the seed will grow, we have to be the lampstand, not the bushel basket, and the light will do what the light does. Why would we be a bushel instead of a lampstand? Maybe we are afraid of what might come to light? What secrets might be revealed? We shouldn’t be. And everything will come out, anyway. Bushel basket thinking won’t even work. The light will shine even if it has to burn through the basket. Might as well get out of the way, get under that light, and lift it up like a good lampstand.

Back in the sower parable, Jesus says people hear but don’t understand. He wants us to have understanding — soil that receives and gives the seed a place to sprout, and lampstands that let the light shine. Next Jesus goes on to say that we are like a vessel — a measuring container, like the bushel basket — and some have different capacities. I once heard a sermon about the Old Testament passage where Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall. The pastor said, more or less, that “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” was kind of like saying “Pint, Pint, Quart, Half-gallon.” No wonder the king couldn’t figure out what it meant. If you’ve ever followed a recipe, you know that you use different measuring utensils to get different quantities of ingredients. So it is with people who hear the Word. They’re different containers and they have different purposes in completing the recipe of God’s plan. Two cups of flour is not better or worse than one half teaspoon of salt. It’s just different. Like the parable of the servants given different amounts to invest, they weren’t better or worse because they got more or less. They were just different.

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Image by Alex Sartori. Public Domain. Pixabay.

You are the soil, the lampstand, the container. Your capacity determines what happens to what you receive. The parable says “when the soil permits” the crop will germinate, grow, and mature. Moving on to the parable of the mustard seed, we learn that the seed can be tiny but the yield can be enormous in shade, shelter, support, and sustenance.

Here’s a final question. Jesus calmed the storm at the end of Mark 4 but he chastised the disciples for lacking faith. Did He expect them to calm the storm themselves? No disciple or apostle ever performed a miracle that calmed a storm. Just wondering why, when they did so many others. That would have come in really handy when Paul suffered shipwreck. God has His purposes in all things, but I just wonder — why did no one ever calm a storm? What kind of soil, or lampstand, or vessel would that take? — Post by Mary C. Findley

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“Wave” by User Counselling. Pixabay. Public Domain.

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