It’s been a busy day for Jesus. Earlier in the day, He was addressing some of His followers and referred to them as His family (brother, sister, mother). Now, Jesus has left the house where that occurred and is sitting by the sea. A multitude of people have followed Him there, so He gets into a ship and pushes off from the shore such that He can speak to the many people who are gathered on the shore. He decides to share several parables with them at this time.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the concept, parables are stories used by Jesus to communicate various spiritual truths such that only someone who is looking for the spiritual meaning will understand what He is saying. The people and objects in the story typically represent other things, so the key to understanding the parable is to identify what each element of the story represents and what their interactions indicate.
The first parable that Jesus shares on this particular day is the parable of the sower in which a man throws seeds onto farmland with the intention of having them take root and eventually produce fruit. Four different results are mentioned in the parable:
- Some seeds land beside the actual farmland, and the birds come and eat them up.
- Some seeds land among rocks in shallow dirt — plants quickly spring up but they don’t have time to establish roots before the sun burns them and they die.
- Some seeds land among thorns, which prevent the plants from growing and producing any fruit.
- Some seeds land in good ground and grow into plants that produce lots of fruit — some thirty, some sixty, some a hundredfold.
See Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8.
Why did Jesus use a sower and seeds for this parable? Because it was something familiar to the people who were listening. Many of them worked on farms so the image of a man throwing seeds and all of the different possible outcomes for the seeds were easy for them to envision, allowing them to then grasp the meaning of the parable.
If Jesus was relating the parable to us today, perhaps He would use different elements in the story — things that we who are not farmers could more easily understand. For example, if His audience included football fans, perhaps the story He would relate would be the parable of the quarterback. In this version of the parable, a man would throw footballs on a football field with the intention of having them land in a teammate’s hands and produce points. Four different results could occur:
- Some passes are intercepted by the opposing team.
- Some passes appear to be caught but then are dropped or fumbled.
- Some passes are caught, but the receiver immediately runs into lots of tacklers and is unable to gain any yardage.
- Some passes are caught and produce lots of yardage — some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred yards.
OK, so what does the parable mean? Well, in this particular case, Jesus gives the meaning Himself (a few verses later in each of the chapters mentioned earlier) in order to illustrate how to interpret parables. Here is the meaning as explained by Jesus:
The seeds (or the footballs in my made-up parable) represent the gospel. The ground (or the football team) represents those who need to receive salvation through Christ (by accepting the gospel). Who is the sower (or quarterback)? We are, when we try to share the gospel with others. Each time we try to share the gospel, the person we share it with will likely fall into one of the categories represented by the four outcomes in the parable.
- Some will reject it outright — Jesus describes this type of person as someone who hears the gospel and doesn’t understand it enough to accept it and “then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19).
- Some will seem to accept it but will fall away quickly — This type of person is often one who is willing to try lots of new things in life. The Church is something he’s willing to try, even getting baptized, but he’s not really rooted in the gospel so “when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” and falls away (Matthew 13:20).
- Some will become members of the Church but then allow the things of life to overshadow their service to God — Such a person may fall away from the Church or may hang on as an inactive member. Jesus describes this type of person as someone who accepts the gospel but “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
- Some will become solid members of the Church, producing much spiritual fruit — “Some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
Hopefully, we all fall into the last category above. Some may produce more fruit than others, but as long as we are producing some spiritual fruit, we are in that category.
However, the point of studying this parable is not to assure ourselves that we are in the good category. Rather, the parable is encouraging each of us to be willing to be the sower or quarterback, doing our best to spread the gospel to others. Jesus is letting us know that the results will vary so we won’t give up without even trying. After all, if we sow no seeds, we will have no fruit. If we throw no passes, our team will be shutout.
Be assured that we have good seed — the more we spread it around, the more often it will land in good ground. And if you try your best and the person rejects the gospel? Well, if the quarterback throws a good pass and the receiver drops it, it’s not the quarterback’s fault, is it?
So, let’s all develop our throwing skills. What happens at the receiving end — let’s leave that in God’s hands. This is the message of the parable of the sower (or quarterback).
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.