That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there.54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”
58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
Just as a marathon runner trains for their sport, just as a musician practices their art, we must properly prepare our hearts for Jesus. Or, as Jesus puts it, the soil of our hearts must be made ready to receive his message. Then, and only then, will our hearts (and his message) grow.
I think this is a beautiful idea that illustrates God’s understanding of our fallible human selves. The disciples ask Jesus why he teaches in parables right after he delivers the first parable, the Parable of the Sower. Jesus answers them, “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been revealed to you, but not to them.” In other words, “y’all already get it, but the others have some catching up to do.” And Jesus wants to give us the time and the tools to do that catching up. The parables allow us to come at Jesus’ message from an angle, working up to a full understanding of what he is and what he requires of us. Because let’s be honest, even after 2000 years of Christian tradition, it can be kind of overwhelming to hear. Can you imagine how it was to be around, in Jesus’ time, hearing his message for the very first time? Your sins are forgiven and you shall have life everlasting as a child of God? What the….
Let’s focus on that Parable of the Sower, because I see the others in this chapter as supporting parables. Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower to his disciples starting in v. 18. Seed that falls on the path is an analogy for those who hear the message but don’t understand it; seed on the rocky places is for those that hear the message and rejoice, but it doesn’t “take root;” seed that falls in the weeds is for those who let their faith be choked by the world’s troubles and distractions, and then seed in the good soil is those who hear, understand, and apply Jesus’ message.
Upon the initial reading it sounds a little like predestination: only a special, pre-selected few will receive the Good News, and everyone else is condemned. But what farmer or gardener do you know that just spreads their seed willy-nilly all over the path, the rocks, the weeds? Sure, a little bit might get there due to wind or spillage, but by and large they are careful where they plant their seed, making sure the soil is good and ready. So really, I see this parable as Jesus calling us to prepare our hearts for him. Are the weeds of life choking you? Then start weeding-simplify, refocus, whatever you need to do to get to a place where you’re ready to receive God’s message for you. Is the soil of your faith rocky and shallow? Build it up! Fertilize with friendships and community support. Have you been completely abandoned to the elements, like the seed on the path? I don’t know what that individual can do, but maybe that means it’s our responsibility, as a society, to see what we can do for them. So you see, we aren’t abandoned or predestined, but rather being invited to fully prepare ourselves for Jesus’ message and God’s purpose for our lives.
Then, when we are ready, when the tiny mustard seed of Faith is planted in good soil, it will grow to great heights. It will pervade every aspect of our lives, just as yeast does in a well worked dough. In the right conditions, Faith is strong, tenacious, and pervasive. But just like practicing a sport or an art, or preparing a garden, it takes some work to get there. Jesus knows that and is okay with waiting on us to catch up, he just wants to see us making progress. Get out there and practice kindness, practice love. Get out there and weed away whatever is distracting you from doing those things, and you will find your understanding, like a treasure buried in a field or a merchant looking for fine pearls. What beautiful things you can grow with God’s help, I can’t wait to see.
I know there is a lot I didn’t get to here, like the separating of the weeds and wheat or the good and bad fish; and Jesus’ less-than-cordial welcome back to his hometown. But the beauty of the Gospels is these stories are often told in more than one book, so we have a chance to revisit them and examine a different aspect next time we come across them. So don’t worry, I’m not ignoring them, this is just what I was moved to focus upon this time.