The parables Jesus tells in Matthew 13 are some of the best known in Scripture. They form a set of seed stories, metaphors for how, where and when the seed of the word of God is planted in our lives, and the level of fruitfulness or barrenness that results. After telling these parables, Jesus cries out to us from 2000 years ago, “Let anyone who has ears listen” (Matt. 13:9). I have ears, do you?
I’ve heard preachers hold forth on these seed stories over the years, and have thought, “I’m always going to be one of the ‘good ground’ people.” At this point in my life, with a bit more humility, I see that I have been all types of ground when it comes to receiving seed. I’ve been hard, shallow, thorny, weedy, and yes, sometimes good ground that produces good fruit. It depends on what day or season you look at in my life story. I believe that this variability is experienced by most of us.
Jesus told the parable of the sower and the seed from a boat, pushed offshore so the massive crowd could hear him better because of the natural amplification produced by the water. His audience was a mixture of men, women, and children, religious and unreligious, rich and poor, healthy and sick.
Jesus constantly had these very mixed crowds of seekers following him around at this point in his ministry. Some wanted his help and encouragement, some were curious, and some wanted to find fault with him.
With his closest disciples, Jesus spoke plainly about the kingdom. But when in the presence of crowds that included people with ignorance or unbelief, he used stories. He provided word pictures that required hearers to work a bit harder to discern and apply their meaning. Jesus quotes Isaiah in the passage to press the point that the secrets of the kingdom are not available to everyone; they are available to those whose hearts diligently seek and crave after the source of the secrets.
When a sower throws seed on a stony path, Jesus says that it never gets planted because the birds come and carry it away. This applies to those who hear the word, but they don’t understand it. They are innocent, or ignorant, or both. It bounces off. Their gullibility makes them victim to the thievery of the enemy, and they miss their opportunity to become living, growing organisms. Maybe this corresponds to the people we know who just aren’t yet ready to receive truth.
Some of the sower’s seed falls on rocky, shallow ground. It grows up quickly, like a weed. But as soon as conditions get hot and dry, it withers up, because it has no root system. Do you know some people like this? They’ll show up for a show, but their commitment is shallow, so they are not faithful to the word once they get home. They may stay alive for a while, but if they don’t dig down a bit deeper and let some roots hold them in place, they will not produce fruit.
In the third instance, the seed falls on arable soil, and begins to grow. But just when it might become fruitful, thorny plants sprout up and choke the life out of the soil. This corresponds to the folks who focus on temporal things—worries and riches–or worry about riches—and how to acquire them or hold onto them. We have lots of people like this all around. Worriers, schemers, covetous, or simply lost in labyrinths of secularism.
Last in the parable is the good ground. What happens to the seed that lands there?
This is ground that has been prepared, fertilized, and enriched with consistent care. Weeds and thorns are not allowed to take root. Roots grow strong and reach down deep. The birds can’t get to the seed because the seed has become a flourishing plant. The plant, in fact, is producing more seed to scatter.
I believe this parable speaks to us in the autumn of this strange and difficult year. Maybe we were “running well” as Paul says, but the difficulties and heartaches we’ve been facing have discouraged, confused, or sidetracked us.
Remember that the heart and purpose of the disciple must not become defiled or distorted because of the circumstances and people around us. We can remain good ground. We mustn’t get lost, or compromised, or shallow, or covetous, or worldly.
Especially now, God’s people must bear fruit for the kingdom. We confound the enemies of God by remaining joyful and abundantly alive. This will be recognizable by unbelievers and by believers. It will reveal our confidence in God, and our certain hope for a future in him. We are seed bearers who produce fruit, and reproduce disciples for Jesus Christ. We daily sow seed in all directions, expecting to sometimes encounter really good ground.