The Parable of the Sower
It is always a good idea to read Scripture in its own context because it helps us to rightly interpret the current passage. This parable begins with the words “In the same day”. The first thing we need to zero in is why Matthew mentions that it was the same day as the previous events in chapter 12. This day appeared to be the Sabbath, and it was a very long one for Jesus. It started with the disciples plucking grain and eating it on the Sabbath Day which enraged the Pharisees. Wayfarers were allowed to pluck grain from the field so long as they ate it for the immediate need of hunger. But the plucking of grain itself was considered by the Pharisees to be reaping and the rubbing to release the grain threshing. This was doing work on the Sabbath day.
Jesus came to the rescue of his disciples by reminding the Pharisees about what King David had done in eating the consecrated showbread because he and his men were hungry. What Jesus was telling them about the Sabbath is that it was made for the rest of man. Relieving hunger was perfectly in accord with the idea of refreshment.
Things only went downhill that day. He then went to teach in the synagogue. While he was there on the Sabbath Day, he healed a man with a withered hand. Here the man was commanded to extend a hand he could not extend. Was it against the Law of Moses for someone to extend their hand on the Sabbath Day? The Pharisees knew that Jesus was the reason the man was healed. But instead of being thankful, they began to attack Jesus instead. Jesus responded by reminding them that they would have shown mercy to their own livestock on the Sabbath. How much more should we show mercy to humans who are created in God’s image?
The Pharisees then break the Sabbath by holding a council on the Sabbath Day with the intention to destroy Jesus. While they were doing that, Jesus removed himself to the crowds and healed a great many of them. Matthew lets us know that this was in accord with what Isaiah the prophet had said about Him. He was gentle and giving rest while the self-proclaimed defenders of the Sabbath were plotting Jesus’ destruction.
Continuing this very long Sabbath Day, Jesus casts out a demon from a man. The Pharisees retaliated by accusing Jesus of casting out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. Jesus reminded them that it was not in Satan’s interest to cast out his demons from a man. Also it was an insult to God in that it said that the Pharisees thought that Satan showed compassion on this man, whereas God did not. In other words, they accused God of being the devil. Little did they know who stood in their presence! They were in great danger of committing the unpardonable sin.
Continuing what must have been a wearying Sabbath Day for Jesus, the Pharisees demanded in response that Jesus demonstrate proof that He was the Messiah. How blind the Pharisees were! Jesus had healed the sick and cast out demons all day long while teaching with authority the word of the Kingdom. What greater sign could He have given them? Jesus tells them that they would get their sign when Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead which would be in line with the sign of Jonah.
Then Jesus’ earthly family came and tried to take Him away for his own protection. The Gospel of Mark seems to indicate that his family thought he was out of His mind. We know from John 7 that his brothers were not yet believers in Him. How much more rejection and pain could Jesus feel this day? This was no Sabbath for Jesus. But this was all right because God works on the Sabbath Day so we can rest. Jesus responds to the pleas of His family be saying that He had a new family. If His own would not believe on Him, then He would make a family out of those who did.
Now we get to the Parable of the Sower. Now that we look at the context, we must understand that the sower of the seed is none other than Jesus. This is why it was rightly called the Parable of the Sower rather than more recent attempts to call it the Parable of the soils. The seed is the teaching of the Kingdom which Jesus was bringing to the crowd that was so large that He removed from shore to teach from a boat. The Pharisees and the Scribes were agents of the evil one who were trying to take away the seed of the Kingdom of Heaven from others. The Pharisees’ love for money choked out love for God’s Kingdom. Many in the crowd were eager to hear the words of Jesus and accept the gifts of healing, food, and spiritual uplift but would not follow Jesus to the cross. In other words, the crowd which was listening to Jesus was the soil to which Jesus broadcast the seed. There was some of every type.
Again, some want to interpret this parable as relating to the type of soil. But if we notice, the sower did not prepare the ground. Neither did he in any way discriminate as far as to where the seed was scattered. Jesus would never have passed agriculture school. There is no talk about plowing the ground or caring for the crop, including its weeding. Much seed appeared to be wasted by indiscriminate broadcasting. The more seed that had to be scattered in the field, the less grain was available to eat. In a land which was at the margins of the desert, this would seem to be very wasteful.
Jesus now sends out his followers to scatter the seed of the Kingdom. If we follow the line of reasoning here, the emphasis lies entirely on the broadcast of the Gospel and NOT on trying to add to it by adding human wisdom and ideas to the mix in the false hope that by doing so that it will make a greater harvest. Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom indiscriminately and not to just the “elect”. Jesus knows who His elect are. However, we do not. The Pharisees considered themselves the “elect” and considered many of the common people who heard Jesus to be rabble. They were addressed by the title of “People of the land”. They were little better off than the heathen. But the Gospel of Matthew emphasizes time and time again that even the Gentiles were to be included in God’s new family. The family of Jesus consists of all who will believe and follow Him, regardless of genetic or cultural background.. The seed was not to be scattered to the Jews alone, no less the Pharisees who expected that the true Messiah would come to praise them.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians that god raised him up to plant the gospel and Apollos to water it. However, it is God who makes the increase. And this is just the point of the parable. Another parable said just after this one talks about the Kingdom of Heaven being a dragnet. At the end of time the dragnet it thrown it to collect everyone. After this, God will do the sorting. The wheat and tares grow together until harvest time when God will separate them and not us.
I have heard so many times that when we fish for men that we must use the right bait. Bait is a way of deception. Can we really deceive people into the Kingdom of God? This is not God’s way of fishing, but man’s. We want to preach a sugar-coated gospel. Or we want to tailor the message to reach a certain group of people. We change the message to reach baby boomers or Gen X, or Millennials, accordingly. But this is not God’s way. God says to preach the word to everyone, to those who will listen and to those who will not. Do we not trust God to care for the crop and to bring the elect to the harvest? Why must we act as though God were dead or at least very busy through our actions while at the same time trying to prove to the world that God is not dead? If we truly believe in a living God who is Sovereign of the universe, then why not leave what He said He would do to Him? Why must we think that we have to help Him out in this matter?
Rather, God commands us to preach the word, in season and out of season. If we will simply get back on message and broadcast the seed of the Kingdom, doing what He commands us to do in the way He commands it be done. We must not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He will care for His church. This does not mean that we don’t care for the church as Paul reminds us of the task of nurture as well as evangelism. But nurture of the church is to be done God’s way as well. We need to follow Scripture and not the methods of psychology and vain philosophy of men. When we employ our own ideas, we are saying that we are wiser than God and that the righteousness of men is greater than God. When we think that we care more than God, then we have become the very Pharisees that Jesus faced this very long day
So let us spend less time being soil engineers and more time in seeking the Lord in prayer and study of Scripture that we might know His will and do it. Not one of God’s elect will be lost. If it were up to us, we would prepare the soil according to pragmatic principles of men and care for the field by the same. The result would be a very green looking field, but the harvest time will reveal that it produced no heavenly fruit.