Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Parable of The Sower, Miracle of Feeding 5000
Volume 7 No. 427 July 28, 2017
III. Featured: Parable of The Sower

Parable of the Sower: Hearers of the Word

By Douglas G. Denton

Gospel: Mark 4:1-20

Listening has become almost a lost art. From earliest times when the tribe would sit around the campfire to hear a rousing adventure story to the days of riveting radio dramas like "The Shadow" and "Inner Sanctum," people have let their minds create the pictures while their ears took in the words. Motion pictures and television changed all that. We are a visual generation whose listening skills have atrophied. Maybe that is why families cannot communicate and people often talk but seldom listen.

The ability to really listen is as vital today as it ever was. How else are we going to hear not only each other but the voice of God? Jesus had something crucial to say about hearing the Word of God in Matthew 4:1-20. Usually called "The Parable of the Sower," it is really about different types of soil. The seed is the Word of God and the sower anyone who disseminates that Word. The point of the story is that the sower, sowing the same seed, obtains different results from different soils. Whenever God's Word is communicated the results depend on the fertility of the hearer's heart.

As there were four kinds of hearers of the Word in Jesus' parable, so there are the same four kinds of hearers in this sanctuary today. Everyone within the sound of my voice will fall into one of these four categories. Which kind are you?

I. Hardened hearers immediately forget the message (Mark 4:1-15).

There were two methods of sowing seed in Jesus' day. One was to balance a bag of seed on the back of a donkey, cut holes in either side of the bag and let the seed run out as the donkey walked over the ground. The other method was to broadcast the seed by hand. This latter method seems to be the picture Jesus had in mind.

The reason some seed "fell by the wayside" was that farmers left paths for travelers through their fields. This ground naturally would be hard-packed by the traffic. So birds would quickly eat the seed which fell there.

The hearts of some folks have become so hardened by the world's traffic that the seed of the Word cannot penetrate it. They have heard too many false advertisements, bought too many lemons from fast-talking used car salesmen, been jilted by too many fickle lovers. Having been burned in the past, they are bitter and cynical. People are no good; they are all liars and hypocrites. The preacher's sermon is just one more sales pitch and the preacher just another con artist.

With such people the message goes in one ear and out the other. Nothing can get through the protective shell they have built around themselves. As a result, they will have forgotten the sermon before they make it out the front door.

If these pew-warmers soon forget the pulpit message ...

II. Shallow hearers quickly drop out (Mark 4:5-17)

Galilee is underlaid with limestone rock. In some places this rock is covered only by a thin layer of soil. The early spring sun would warm this rock, which in turn kept the soil warm. Seed which feel on this soil would germinate quickly. But this warm soil contained little moisture and the young plants, being rooted only in shallow soil, had no subsoil supply of water to draw upon. Therefore, the hot, midday sun dried up and killed those fledgling sprouts.

Jesus remarked that God's Word cannot take root in shallow hearts. Some people eagerly embrace the Christian Faith the first time they hear the gospel message. They join the church on their first visit, coming forward on the first note of the invitation hymn. But it soon becomes obvious that they listened very superficially to the preaching of the Word, for they failed to count the cost of discipleship. They liked the church's programs and ministries. They did not hesitate to take advantage of the nursery or to steer their youth into the recreational activities.

Then someone asked them to serve on a committee or to teach a Sunday School class or to tithe their income. Their unchurched friends mocked their newfound faith. It became a chore to get up on Sunday mornings. Suddenly these easily-won converts dropped out of sight as though they were in the FBI's witness protection program! As Jesus said, "they are offended" when they find out it isn't all a bed of roses; there are a few thorns too. They reject the faith as fast as they had accepted it, proving that their profession was never genuine. These are fairweather Christians, sunshine disciples who run for cover as soon as it starts to rain hardship.

III. Distracted hearers promptly bog down (Mark 4:7, Mark 4:18-19)

William Barclay notes that some Palestinian farmers were lazy. They did not bother to rid the soil of foreign growth. Thorns, weeds and other wild plants grew alongside the sown seed. A given amount of soil can nourish only so many plants. So the wild growth strangled the good plants, depriving them of nutrients, water, space and sunlight.

God's Word cannot thrive in cluttered hearts. These hearers truly receive the message but never grow into mature disciples. (Only a mature organism can bear fruit and reproduce itself.) Just as the thorns of Jesus' parable stunted the growth of the farmer's seed, preventing it from bearing fruit, so frivolous concerns sap the Christian's strength. Anxiety, ambition and an appetite for worldly amusements drain off limited resources that could be better channeled into making us more productive disciples.

Each of us has only so much time, money and energy. We can spend these fretting about material things, scrambling for success or pursuing ease, pleasure and cheap thrills. Or we can invest them in doing the will of God and becoming more Christ-like. The choice is ours.

What is it that is choking the life out of your spiritual walk? What thorns have a stranglehold on your soul? Are you a distracted hearer whose life has bogged down in the mire of vain concerns? If you would pull out of your spiritual morass you must become the fourth type of hearer.

IV. Responsive hearers readily bear fruit (Mark 4:8, Mark 4:20).

Even in the good soil the harvest varied, depending on how good it was. A hundredfold may seem like a bumper crop but ancient records show that in some cases such was possible.

Not all Christians have the same gifts, abilities or potential. Some produce more fruit than others, though all believers are commanded to bear some fruit. "Fruit" may refer to good works or to souls won to Christ. Since we are to do both we do not need to decide which Jesus meant. The point is that we are to bear as much fruit as we can with our individual talents. This happens as we move from being merely hearers of the Word to doers of it as well (see James 1:22). For that is the mark of a responsive hearer. As Jesus cautioned, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:9).


The Parable of the Sower in The Gospel of Mark

by Shmoop University

Let's face it. The parable of the sower in 4:3-9 and its interpretation by Jesus in 4:13-20 don't really have the same cultural currency that some of Mark's other images possess for us today. But you know what? Sometimes what we see in pop culture isn't an accurate reflection of what's important in the original source. Take that, people who think the ending of Lost was terrible. You're missing the point.

Types of Soil

In The Parable of the Sower, a farmer scatters his seeds in several types of soil. The road, rocks, and thorns are of course inhospitable to productive farming, and the seeds that land there…well, they die. But some of the seeds land in good soil - there, plants grow that produce one-hundred times as much. In today's economy that's like investing a buck and getting one-hundred back. Not bad.

So what does it all mean? Don't worry, Jesus dishes for the disciples who - like us - don't get it (4:13; he does the same for his dense followers in 7:14-23). It turns out that the different types of soil represent various ways people respond to Jesus and his teaching. Let's take a look.

Soil Type 1:

You hear Jesus, but Satan plucks it right out of your ears, like a bird who eats seeds sown on a road.

Soil Type 2:

You hear Jesus and respond with initial enthusiasm, but your desire to follow fades when the going gets rough. Reminds us of plants that grow in rocks - they don't have roots, so they die under the blaring sun.

Soil Type 3:

You hear Jesus, but are simply too concerned with your resume, making money, and your overall sex appeal to care. These things choke you, like thorns that smother little plants.

Soil Type 4:

You hear Jesus and…flourish. Ta-da!

Types of People

Pretty much everyone Jesus meets as the story unfolds fits into one of these categories. The parable provides a kind of character map, which we readers can use to judge the people we meet throughout the narrative. And there are a few surprising results.

Soil Type 1:

Pharisees, scribes, and other Jewish leaders, who pretty much never stand a chance (with exception of Jairus in 5:22 and the scribe in 12:28).

Soil Type 2:

The twelve disciples, which is somewhat of a shocker. Maybe Simon's nickname Peter (which means "Rock" in Greek) is not entirely a good thing (3:16), since rocky soil causes trouble (4:5, 16-17).

Soil Type 3:

Herod and his court (6:17-29) and the rich guy (10:17-22).

Soil Type 4:

Everyone whom Jesus heals or whose faith he commends.

Pretty cool.

Source: Shmoop University

Understanding Parables

by Rev. Bryan Findlayson

Gospel: Matthew 13:10-17


In the passage before us, Jesus gives us a clue to the function and therefore the interpretation of his kingdom parables. The crowds have failed to respond to a clear presentation of the gospel, so, in an act of judgment, Jesus preaches the gospel in riddles.

The passage

v10. The disciples don't understand why Jesus speaks to the crowd in parables, why he speaks in picture stories that seem to have no meaning, stories that are more like riddles. So, they ask Jesus for an explanation.

v11. Jesus' answer is that the secrets about God's coming kingdom, once hidden, but now revealed, is for disciples only. The good news of God's eternal kindness found in Christ is for those with a heart receptive to God, a broken and contrite heart, a heart open to God's mercy. The good news is not for those with a calloused heart. So, Jesus speaks in parables, in riddles, to veil the truth and keep it from those who have no interest in seeking God's mercy.

v12. Jesus supports what he has just said with a proverb, a kind of the rich get rich and the poor get poorer observation about life. This observation applies to spiritual things as well. An open and responsive heart that craves God's mercy, as opposed to a calloused heart closed to divine mercy, welcomes the good news of God's grace in Christ, even if hidden in a riddle, and thus receives divine grace abundant and overflowing. The calloused heart, unrepentant, unbelieving, is left with riddles and ends up losing everything.

v13. So, given the calloused heart of unrepentant Israel, Jesus preaches in riddles. This is an act of divine judgment which leaves the crowds seeing, but not seeing, hearing, but not understanding.

v14-15. The quotation from Isaiah 6:9-10 serves to confirm Jesus' use of riddle-like kingdom parables as an act of divine judgment upon a people of calloused heart. The point is, a spiritually dull people is no new thing. Isaiah's insensitive hearers chose dullness over devotion. They actually resisted God's word in case it drove them into the arms of their merciful God. They shut their ears "so that" they may not hear. Of course, the consequence of such behavior is that they were then given a word from God which they couldn't understand; "through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people."

v16-17. The disciples are blessed (by God) because they have seen and heard what God's faithful children in the past longed to see and hear. The prophets of old waited expectantly for the coming of the messiah and the dawning of the kingdom, so the disciples who have found both in Jesus are blessed indeed. For these seekers, these "little ones", the secrets of the kingdom are theirs to know.
Words of judgment

The scriptures reveal a pattern of judgment upon those who grow dull in their listening to the Word of God. Those whose ears are dull receive a dull word to make them even duller. It's as if the Lord says, "if you won't hear a clear word, then see what you can do with a confused one."

We are told that after his baptism, Jesus came preaching the gospel - "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel." Later in his ministry we see him preaching the gospel in the form of mysterious parables about weeds and wheat, mustard seeds, yeast..... Even the disciples were unable to understand the meaning of these strange riddles. The crowds had failed to act on a clear word from God and so now all they got was a clouded word. The kingdom parables serve as God's judgment upon a people who have failed to receive his word of grace.

The seriousness with which God treats his word impacts upon the way we handle it when it comes to both nurture and evangelism.

Good Biblical preaching is rarely appreciated and for this reason a congregation can grow dull of hearing. Just as we get the politicians we deserve, so we often get the preachers we deserve. When a congregation fails to hear and respond to faithful expository preaching then they are liable to get waffle. Sure, it may be really interesting waffle; topical sermons, life-changing sermons that relate to people's work and family life, sermon's that scratch where it itches..... the brainstormed ideas of a fruitful imagination. Beware!

In evangelism, we are commissioned to communicate the clear the message of God's grace in Christ to the community at large. Having done this, there is no need to rework our strategies or refine our methods. We must proclaim and allow the Lord to bless.

Jesus reminds his disciples how lucky they are to share in God's last-days revelation. We too experience the full counsel of God; we share his mind. Yet, Jesus warned his disciples that those who grow dull in their hearing will end up receiving an unclear word to dull them even further. The same danger faces us, so let us actively listen to his word, praying always for its clear proclamation.


Suggest some practical ways the Lord may give an unclear word to a people whose ears have grown dull of hearing.

Source: Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons

Malankara World Journals With The Theme: The Parable of the Sower

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Volume 6 No 357 July 8 2016
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Volume 4 No 230: August 1, 2014
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Volume 3 No 156: August 8, 2013
Theme: Kingdom of God


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