Mark 4: 1 – 20 NLT
Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed
Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the
shore. 2 He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant.
11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret (also translated mystery) of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘When they see what I do,
they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say,
they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me
and be forgiven.’ Isaiah 6: 9 – 10
13 Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? 14 The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to
others. 15 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. 16 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 17 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 18 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. 20 And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
This parable is one of the most known of Jesus’ parables. Four situations are described in the parable. Some seeds fell on a well-traveled foot path, and they had no chance to root at all. Some seeds fell on shallow soil with rocks underneath; although they sprouted quickly, they died just as quickly since there was too much heat and no sustenance (water). Other seeds fell on thorny ground (lots of weeds); they continued to survive, but didn’t produce any fruit. Then there were the seeds that fell on fertile ground, and various quantities of crops were produced. Jesus goes on to explain what that parable meant.
I’m going to try my hand at interpreting the parable in 2020. It was Christmas Eve, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day – whatever holiday you can think of on a day celebrated in churches. Bill comes along with his parents because his dad put the pressure on to join the family. Bill thinks this church stuff is silly, for people who need some kind of crutch to get along in life. He thinks a lot of the church people are old fashioned, just a little bit out of touch – kind of like his parents. Not that he doesn’t love his parents, but he doesn’t agree with their religious bent. He hears the message about Jesus; he knows it’s a good story, but really it has nothing to do with life today in our modern society.
Those are the first seeds described in the parable. They are people who ignore anything to do with Christianity. They have decided it is irrelevant to them. If you are searching out the Christian faith, wondering if it might be something you need, this type of seed described first does not apply to you. These are people who have decided that Christianity is definitely not for them.
The next group are the seeds that fell on shallow soil. Jesus described them as “The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.” Jane was invited by her neighbour, Susan, to come to church. Susan told her that LSA had a great program for kids and Jane’s preschooler and SK daughter would love it. Jane was feeling a bit left out of things; her husband was so busy with his job, and looking after a 3 and 5 year old was hectic. So, she decided to try it out, and she was quite excited about this modern church. The people seemed so friendly, and her kids loved the children’s program. She liked the fact that there were security measures in place for the kids, so she could relax. The coffee was pretty good too. The music was good; in fact, she recognized one of the musicians also played at a coffee bar she, her husband and their friends went to. She came out a few times, but getting the kids and herself ready early Sunday morning was a bit of a chore; she rather loved lazy Sunday mornings, and her husband was usually at home too. In fact, her husband thought going to church interfered with the one day they could plan things with their family – or get things done around the house. Actually, he sort of made fun of her for going to church – getting religious, eh? Church was good, but staying home seemed easier after a while.
I wonder how many people attend our church that way. How could we keep them connected? Do we need to connect with their spouse? Does someone who knows them need to invite them over for dinner, coffee, an evening, etc.? Does someone with kids their age, initiate play dates? When someone new arrives at our church door, we need to pay attention. It’s not just the job of the greeter at the door. How can we connect with them in a deeper way, not just a casual hello?
Then there were the seeds that fell on thorny (weedy) ground. Carol and Bob decided to try out that church in their neighbourhood. They noticed there were a lot of cars there every Sunday; in fact, the place seemed busy throughout the week. Bob knew one of his bosses at work attended that church, and the guy seemed really nice and was great to work with. Carol had just started back to work half-time since their kids were in their early teens and didn’t need as much supervision anymore. They discovered the youth program was great, and their kids found several of their classmates went to the youth meetings. The service was good – great music and the sermon was interesting. In fact, Bob and Carol talked about what they were hearing at church, and realized there was a kind of emotional/mental need they had that was being met at church. So, they decided to join. But, then they were asked to get involved. Carol ended up helping with the youth group. Bob was asked to join the finance committee since he had a job in banking. But Bob was also on the verge of promotion to a great job with much better pay. Bob and Carol started to go to various social occasions which you really needed to do in Bob’s new position. They needed to get their house renovated/updated since they were required to entertain business associates. They were starting to get worried about their oldest son, who had just turned 16. He was anxious to learn to drive, and he also had some rather interesting friends. Carol wondered if those friends were a good influence or not. She enjoyed the status and extra money from Bob’s new job. In fact, she was thinking of going to work full-time since there were possibilities for promotion even in her job. Life was getting complicated. Church was good, they believed in God, but there were so many other things that needed their attention.
This situation is one that could describe many in our church today. There are so many things that interfere with developing a close relationship with God. Success in our jobs is important in 2020. That often means more than just a 9 to 5 work day – sometimes, way more. We watch HGTV and dream of making our homes just as beautiful. Does that mean an extra job to afford the renovations or get our home ready to sell so we can buy up? Our kids can keep us running – on sports teams at school, sports with travel teams, supervising their homework, entertaining their friends, etc. Sometimes we’re struggling because of a lost job. We feel so overwhelmed. Or a serious illness strikes the family – our immediate family or our parents. Or we are juggling looking after our own family, but also helping mom (or dad) who is alone and struggling. Frankly, life in 2020 is hectic. That’s the norm. When do we have time to pray and have a personal devotion time? When do we have time to fit in various church activities? Having a summer cottage is so good to get away for a few months from the city. Heading to Florida for the winter is such a nice reward for working hard before retirement – that kind of curtails how much we can be involved in our church. At the end of the day, we drive into our garages, go into the house by the inside garage door, and relax for the evening or head out for another meeting. Neighbours? Who are they? See how our modern lifestyle keeps us from “producing fruit”? It’s not that we reject our Christian faith. We’re just so caught up with things that our faith can get put by the wayside.
Then there are the seeds that are planted on fertile soil. These are the people who put their commitment to Jesus first. Are these the people who basically live at the church because they are so committed? Not necessarily. They probably are involved in some form of ministry; churches can’t survive and thrive without volunteers. But that fertile ground is present because of a personal relationship with God that means everything to a person. That individual takes time to pray, meditate, and read the Bible for their own personal growth. That doesn’t mean that person is someone we almost idolize, someone who brings many other people to faith, someone who lives in poverty like Mother Theresa. It’s just someone who says quietly to themselves – God you mean everything to me.
It may be the person who shovels snow for the elderly lady down the block. It may be the person who serves coffee on a Sunday morning in the church foyer. It may be the person who organizes coffee and play dates with other young moms on the street. It may be the guy who works hard and doesn’t ‘cheat’ the company of a full day’s work. It may be the person who volunteers in a downtown organization. It may be the nurse, RPN, or PSW who takes extra care of their patients, who tries to take a moment to talk with each patient to encourage them. It may be the volunteer coach of your kid’s hockey team who stresses playing fair, and plays each kid on the team no matter how talented they are. It’s just anyone who tries to live life with Jesus as an example, and who puts God first in their decisions about how to live.
Does that mean that every sincere Christian will lead many to Christ? Notice the crop results in Jesus’ parable. “And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Their life will be productive, but in various degrees. There may be one person who comes to a relationship with God because of you; there may be many more. Jesus doesn’t distinguish on the basis of results. He seems quite happy with various amounts of success. You could be the pastor of a small country church or you could be the pastor of an urban mega- church. One is not closer to, or more important, to God than the other. You may work in the nursery at church or you may lead a Bible study. One is not more important than the other.
It’s your personal relationship with God that matters, because it is God who produces the results. We’ll look at that more in tomorrow’s devotions.