Maybe the Parable of the Sower Isn’t What You Think It Is

I love the parables of Jesus. There are about 40 of them in total – give or take a few based on your working definition of the word “parable.” I guess I have about half a dozen real favorites: you know – ones that are easy for me to re-tell to someone without hesitation. One of my very favorites is the parable of the sower.

Maybe I like it because so many people know it – they can actually have a great conversation about it. Or, maybe I like it because one of the more common applications people use it for – isn’t really accurate. Or, maybe I like it so much because Jesus actually explains it – I don’t know. But I hope you like it too.

And so, per the request of my friend Carl to use more KJV quotes, here is the parable of the sower from Matthew 13:3-8: “Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

I don’t know if you’ve ever discussed this parable with anyone before, but what I sometimes hear is something resembling this: Only one out of the four recipients actually becomes a lifelong Christian – the other three either rejected the seed – or their faith died because their hearts weren’t ever “truly” receptive to the gospel.

That is an interesting take – but I think a deeper look will be eye-opening.

We can agree – I think – that the birds carrying away the seed from the wayside is representative of those who simply reject the gospel and do not consider it. It is heartbreaking to consider this reality. We all know someone who just refuses to consider the invitation. All we can do is pray their heart becomes receptive and the seed is offered again.

The second person is – again – someone we all know. They hear the call and answer the offer in the affirmative. But, after a few days or weeks, the fire inside of them goes out and they return to the life of sin they used to live.

I’m going to skip the third person – we will get back to him in a moment.

The last person is who we want to be. They are Christians, disciples of the Lord, followers of Jesus, people of The Way, believers, the church, the saved, the bride of Christ … however you want to say it … they are who God wants us to be. We want to be good ground. We want the seed to live in us. We want the seed to grow in us. We want to be identified as a plant that the sower planted. Right?

But what about that third person? Well … some folks will rightly point out that this person was choked. They were caught up in the thorns of this world and it choked them. Many people will even say that the cares of the world choked them to death – they were once alive in Christ … but not really true believers because they could not separate themselves from the strife and worries of just living everyday.

I would like to submit for your consideration an alternative to that approach concerning the third person. The text does not say that the third person was choked to death. It doesn’t say they were even mortally wounded. In fact, quite the contrary! They were very alive!

Jesus explained in Matthew 13:22 that the third person “… heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” Did you read that? According to Jesus, the “word” is what is actually choked … not the person! And the effect of having the word choked is that the person is not fruitful! They aren’t dead – they are alive and well.

It blew me away the first time I read this passage without already having its interpretation pre-populated in my mind. Jesus is saying that the third person – this person who is NOT in compliance with God’s will – is just like the fourth person with one exception: they are not producing fruit.

Whoa! Hold the phone! I know it sounds odd, but when we compare the third person (bad) to the fourth person (good) – the only way to tell them apart is this: one doesn’t produce a crop and one does.

Just to make sure though, let’s go back and look at the fourth person. With our predisposed blinders firmly on our face, we have typically identified ourselves the definition of the fourth person. The things that WE ARE … simply HAVE to be the definition of the fourth person in the parable of the sower. At least … that’s what I always did. Try it out.

I am a Jesus loving, church going, singing, praying, worshiping, praising, edifying, giving, sacrificing, tithing, helping, kind hearted, volunteering, unashamed, Bible scholar, baptized, non-sinning (for the most part) Christian who has a scripture based answer for anyone who wants to know what I believe and why … so THAT is the definition of the fourth person. Right? Isn’t it? ISN’T IT???

No. That is not the definition of the fourth person. THAT is the definition of the third person.

We can be all of those things and still not be pleasing to God. How? Because God expects his vineyard to produce fruit. And THAT, my friends, is the entire point of this parable.

Are you producing fruit? Some will say that they are. They are: kind, generous, giving, loving, patient, hard working, frugal, charity minded, honest, family oriented and big hearted people … see? … that’s fruit … right? Wrong. That is being a good person … not a God person. Atheists can be all of those things. In fact, one of my dearest and oldest friends – Rick – literally IS all of those things … but he is not a believer.

So what is the fruit? The fruit – my friends – is people.

It took me a long time to finally admit that fact. I thought of all kinds of reasons why a person could be considered “fruitful” but not actually grow the kingdom. I could quote all kinds of scriptures to support my theory: things concerning the fruit of the spirit, fruits of righteousness, wisdom that is full of good fruit, and the fruit of our lips. There had to be something – ANYTHING – to justify me not pursuing people to bring them to the Lord.

But, I could not get around the fact that Jesus goes on to talk about the weeds and wheat in the same chapter. I could not get around the fact that in Matthew 7:17-23 Jesus ties together the importance of producing good fruit and the folly of trusting in being religious. I could not get around the fact that in Mark 4:26-32 Jesus compares the expanding kingdom of God to fruit and planting seeds.

And, I could not get around the fact that in both the parable of the sower itself – and Jesus’ explanation of it – the Lord says the seed that was choked did not bring forth fruit to maturity (Luke 8:14) but that the seed that fell on good ground not only produces fruit: it produces 100 fold, 60 fold and 30 fold. I could not get around the fact that in John 4:35-36, Jesus said that “fruit” is gathered for eternal life.

So, here is the question. Are you producing fruit? Real – eternally living – fruit? Some sow the seed, others water, and others cultivate and help prune … but the fruit Jesus talks about is people. Are you (as most other Bible versions put it) producing a crop? How many of your crop will be harvested? Will it be a good crop – or a bad crop?

These are important questions that you need to answer for yourself. Maybe you can begin to shed some light on it by truthfully reflecting on these thought provokers:

  1. What does evangelism mean to you: talking to people about Jesus or bringing them to church so someone else can?
  2. What does teaching people about Jesus mean to you: sharing with others your relationship with Jesus or using a study guide and book or film to do it for you?
  3. What does growing the kingdom (or your church) mean to you: converting the lost or convincing friends to change churches?
  4. What does being a Christian mean to you: teaching all nations and baptizing them or being a good example who talks about Jesus when someone asks what you think?
  5. What does spreading the gospel mean to you: inviting your neighbors over to talk about Jesus or handing out tracts and invitations to a gospel meeting in someone else’s neighborhood?

It took me a month to write the above blog entry. I wrote, deleted, edited, added, researched, reworded, and even gave up several times. But, ultimately, this needs to be brought up. I know hundreds – maybe thousands – of genuinely good people. Most of them – I wouldn’t be able to tell you about their church attendance habits. Many are in the building every time the doors open – others are atheists – but you’d never know who was who based on their conversations and actions.

Why? Because these Christians think that being a good person and a good “church going” person is all that is required of a follower of Jesus. I am concerned because I have been – and maybe still am – in that boat. Let’s spur each other along my friends. Let’s produce fruit. Fruit that will grow and produce crops of its own – AKA good fruit. I am afraid we are producing fruit that doesn’t care whether it grows to maturity or not – AKA bad fruit. We can do better. So, lets not forget what Jesus said:

Matthew 7:17-23 “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”