Jesus' message to his disciples
When Jesus' disciples became discouraged he told them the Parable of the Seeds - a story as relevant today as it was then.
There are many different kinds of people who hear the gospel of Jesus: the casual, the shallow, the sceptical - and the responsive. The Parable of the Seeds invites the reader to ask: where do I fit? In this particular story much of the seed is wasted, but enough of it survives, and thrives, to give an abundant harvest.
Birds eat the seeds
The sower in the Parable of the Seeds casts the seed over the ground where it will, hopefully, germinate and grow roots. But this can only happen if the conditions are right.
The first hazard it may encounter will be birds, who dart down and eat the seed before it has a chance to take hold of the soil. In other words, some people will never get the chance to hear Jesus' message. For them, the seed of his Word will never even begin to germinate.
Who are the birds? At the time the gospels were written, the birds may have symbolized the Gentile nations, flighty creatures sometimes actively hostile to budding Christianity.
But now? There are many people who never tell their children the story of Jesus, or who actively discourage their children from becoming involved with religion of any kind. They seize on any opportunity to criticize Christians or the practice of religion. Today's media is full of their opinions. Religion is bad, and the world would be a better place if no-one believed in God. These are the birds who would destroy the seed before it has any chance to grow.
Seeds fall on rocky ground
Some of the sower's seeds falls on rocky ground. This is not earth full of stones, as people sometimes suppose; even if it takes lot of sweat and toil, stones can be removed.
What Jesus is describing here is earth that is shallow: it has rock close to the surface, so that there is no depth to it. You can plant, water and fertilise the soil as much as you want, but the roots will always be stunted. This kind of soil is common in the hill country of Judea.
The seed wants to grow, but cannot survive with shallow roots. It is like the newly converted Christian who is enthusiastic in his/her belief but who meets difficulties and cannot persist. All this thinking and praying, not to mention a change in heart, is too much of a bother. Basically, this person is shallow, like the rocky ground in the parable. It's easier to give the whole thing up. So their new-found belief in Christ withers and dies.
Or into spiky bushes
Other seeds fall into clumps of prickly weeds, thorny bushes which overpower any plant near them. It is hard to pull them out because the thorns protect them, and hurt anyone brave enough to grasp them.
You surely know people like this. They are bitter and angry. They don't like to see anyone happy, anyone inspired by belief in something higher than themselves. They pour scorn on anyone who wants to be a better person, or build a better world. The only remedy is to leave them to their bitterness and move out of their orbit. If you stay with them, they will impose their anger on you and lead you onto the wrong track. Be careful who you trust. Make sure they are worthy.
Some fall in good soil
Finally, there is the seed that falls on good soil. With all the right conditions, it flourishes - as Christian living can flourish if given the right conditions.
What's the message of this parable?
The parable urged Christians to examine themselves and ask the questions:
When Jesus told this parable, he felt the frustration of planting seeds (teaching and preaching) that would never produce grain - and he knew the disciples would later feel this same frustration. And yet, year after year, they would persevere, knowing that some seeds would grow and ripen, even if many did not.
The task of living up to your Christian beliefs may at times seem futile and fruitless; there will be repeated failure. But if the seed of your faith has deep roots, and you nurture this faith, you will grow like the seed that fell on good soil. Jesus urged his disciples not to be dragged down by failure, but concentrate on keeping their beliefs strong, watering the plant, believing that their work would one day bear fruit.
The preaching of the disciples and their tenacity in holding on to Christian values would not be not ineffectual, as long as they remained unshaken in their confidence that a rich harvest would eventually reward their efforts.
1. Bird eat the seeds. Read the blue text
2. Seeds fall on rocky ground. Read the green text
3. Or into thorn bushes. Read the red text
4. Some fall in good soil. Read the black text
Matthew 13:1-9 1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear."
Matthew 13:18-23 18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
This parable also appears in Mark 4:1-9 and 13-20, and Luke 8:4-8 and 8:11-15.
Bible Study Guide: The Life of Jesus Christ: the Parable of the Seeds
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher