The Parable of the Sower, and the Law of Arithmetic
Updated: Jul 16, 2018
Along with the redemptive and grace-infused sections of the Gospel come some inescapably conditional statements and some very convicting stanzas of scripture - most of which are marked in red letters. There is perhaps none more sobering than the Parable of the Sower, which in some form or another appears in three of the four gospel accounts (MATTHEW 13: 1-9 - LUKE 8: 4-15 - MARK 4: 1-9).
From Luke 8: 4-15
As the parable goes, the seed, or the Word of God, is sowed, resulting in one of four outcomes. They are listed below.
Outcome A: Falling Beside the Road - Trampled under foot and eaten up by the birds of the air.
Outcome B: Falling on Rocky Soil - Grew initially but then withered away due to lack of depth and moisture.
Outcome C: Falling Among Thorns - Thorns grew up and choked out the seedlings.
Outcome D: Growing, Maturing, and Bearing Fruit - With good soil and established roots, a crop of 100 times as great is produced.
The Parable Explained
As with a number of the Gospel parables, an explanation or interpretation comes along with it, one of several inferences to the prominence of this parable.
Here is Jesus' explanation in Luke 8:
“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance."
In Hebrew thought, text appearing in the center of a book or work is not there by chance, but rather because it's especially important. In other words, it's at the heart of the book because it's prominent to the book. This doesn't mean that text appearing in the beginning or end of a scripture text isn't important or less true. What it does mean is that we should probably take note of text in and around the center of books in the Bible derived from Hebrew writers because it's purposely being emphasized. The Parable of the Sower, especially evident in its placement in Matthew 13, is near the center of the text, hinting at its prominence. So the question then that's raised is this: if the parable of the sower is prominent should we not lend an ear and consider its content carefully?
In the parable there are four outcomes, the final outcome being the only "good" one. So, to be as optimistic as possible, in 25% of cases followers or would-be followers of Christ actually resolve to bear fruit. To push back at that optimism, consider that Outcome A points to the fate of what we could call "non-christians," which is likely the biggest bloc of any of the four outcomes and surely greater than 1/4. Take, for instance, the most Christian nation in the world, America, which yields only about 70% of the population as self-proclaimed Christians in a 2014 survey. If we follow the statistical downward trend, we can probably assume that that number is even less in 2016. And, because that number is very loose and inclusive to begin with (for example, Mormons and Jehovah's witness' are lumped into this camp), we can deduce that it's actually more like 60% - that "say" that they're Christians when asked. That leaves at least about 40% that are not - in the most Christian nation in the world - and that's still probably a very optimistic figure. Further, reliable studies show that less than 20% of Christians actually attend Church regularly - which isn't necessarily exclusive to being 'Christian,' but we could likely produce more studies that point to its importance in a genuine relationship with God.
So if the original numbers are good, about 40% of people are out as a result of Outcome A (as in they don't believe and thus are not saved, as the scripture says), and there are two other common fates standing in their way from choosing Outcome D. As you can see, this parable becomes more sobering as we go.
To summarize things, the Parable of the Sower is important, extremely convicting, and totally sobering. We need not get legalistic about it, but must remain vigilant around having and protecting deep roots, which can't easily be snatched away by doubt, scorched by temptation, or choked out by trial.
Arriving at Outcome D
Outcome D comes with three conditions or prerequisites that are necessary to obtaining its promise.
1 - Hearing the Word with an Honest & Good heart - Hearing, not merely listening, is the key to nutrient rich roots. This comes through hearing the message with an honest and good heart, and that can only come through the word of Christ, coupled with a tight-knit relationship with His Holy Spirit.
"Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ." ROMANS 10:17
2 - Holding it fast [The Word] - 'Holding fast' in the Greek (katechó) yields a couple of interesting synonyms - bind or bound, and possess. So it's not just hearing the word with a clean motive and honest persective that develops deep roots, but also possessing that word, and even binding it unto yourself, forging an inseparable relationship between it and your soul & spirit.
3 - Bearing fruit with perseverance - To 'persevere' in the Greek is very similar to the modern english definition: to remain, endure, and keep steadfast. Here's the final stage of the process. Having heard and held fast, we're to produce fruit and endure and keep steadfast in doing it.
- JF D'Orsie - Communications Director - PCC