1Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. There was such a large crowd along the shore that he got into a boat and sat down and spoke from there. 2He began to teach the people by telling many stories such as this one:
3“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The plant sprang up quickly, 6but it soon wilted beneath the hot sun and died because the roots had no nourishment in the shallow soil. 7Other seed fell among thorns that shot up and choked out the tender blades so that it produced no grain. 8Still other seed fell on fertile soil and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” Then he said, 9“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!”
. . . . . . .
14The farmer I talked about is the one who brings God’s message to others. 15The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the message, but then Satan comes at once and takes it away from them. 16The rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. 17But like young plants in such soil, their roots don’t go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word. 18The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the Good News, 19but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for nice things, so no crop is produced. 20But the good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s message and produce a huge harvest—thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” (Mark 4:1-9, 14-20, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
Mark chapter 4 contains one of the more familiar parables in the gospel narratives, but in my opinion, many Bible translations mis-title the parable as “The Parable of the Sower.”
If you’re not too familiar with the Bible, you should know that all of the chapter and verse divisions are not in the original texts but were added later to make it easier on the reader to find and reference. Here’s an interesting article about chapter and verse additions if you’re curious to learn more.
Additionally, any title headings have also been added by the various Bible translators to reflect their own understanding and commentary on the stories and themes that are presented.
So while most Bible translations title this story as “The Parable of the Sower” it seems to me that the story is really about The Four Different Soils.
Jesus himself gives the explanation for the story, explaining that the farmer is a person who brings God’s message to others. The seed represents the message that is being presented and the soils represent the heart conditions of the people who are hearing the message.
The first soil mentioned is the hard soil, or the path. A walking path in those days would have been hard and compact because of all of the foot traffic. Therefore, any seed that fell would not get buried enough to take root. It would just become bird seed. Hence, this soil represents a person whose heart is hard and the message of God does not penetrate enough to make any impact.
The second soil is the rocky soil. Seed that falls here is able to take enough root to germinate and sprout but because the soil is not very deep the roots are not able to go deep enough to become hearty and this plant dies as soon as the weather gets hot. Without an adequate root system, the plant cannot access enough water and nourishment to thrive.
Jesus says that this soil represents a person who experiences a lot of problems, represented by the rocks. They immediately receive the message with joy because it sounds good and they are looking for an immediate fix to the issues they are facing. But when things don’t work out as quickly or as precisely as they expect, they give up on the Christian life and move on to the next self-help option.
The third soil Jesus mentions is the thorny soil. Notice that the seed that falls in this soil takes root, sprouts up and it grows. But because the thorns are crowding it, these plants don’t have the space or ability to produce a crop. They are fruitless.
Jesus says this soil represents a person who hears and accepts the message but Jesus is just one of many things in their life. Jesus is not a priority. This person gets so weighed down with all of the cares and trials of life that their spiritual life never displays the kind of fruitfulness that Jesus would desire for them.
The last soil is the desired soil, the good soil. This soil is rock-free, thorn-free and has been cultivated so that the seed will quickly and easily take root. Because the ground has been properly prepared, the seed that falls in this soil takes root, grows and produces an abundant crop. It is fruitful!
When looking at these four soils, it is clear that the first soil represents a non-Christian. It’s my belief that the second soil also represents a non-believer. This is the person who appears to have a genuine conversion experience but it is fleeting and so the commitment to Jesus is very temporary.
The third person represents a genuine believer whose spiritual life is unfruitful and stagnant. This soil reflects a large percentage of believers in the church today, people who have made genuine decisions for Christ and who continue in their spiritual journey, but whose lives aren’t reflected by fruitfulness and growth. The reason for that, according to Jesus, is a lack of priority. Instead of Jesus being primary in their life, their pursuit is on worldly and material gains and issues.
The fourth soil represents a person who hears the message, accepts it and their lives produce a huge harvest. In short, their hearts have been cultivated in such a way that God’s message has the maximum effect on their life.
Notice that if you are the farmer and you’re scattering seed randomly in a particular area, it is likely the geological composition of the earth in that area is the same. In other words, if you were to take a sampling from each of the areas, and then analyze the composition of each of the soils, you’d get the same results from each sample. The chemical compounds and percentages would be the same in each case.
What makes the soils different is not that they are compositionally different, it’s they are cultivated to different degrees.
The farmer takes great care to cultivate the soil in which he is going to plant. He removes any rocks and extracts any weeds or thorns that might be a hindrance to producing the fullest crop possible. Additionally, he tills the soil, making it loose enough for the seed and for water and other nutrients to penetrate the surface and go deeper to where the roots will be.
What this means is that you can cultivate your heart just as a farmer cultivates the soil of his field. It may not be easy work, but you can do the hard work to remove the rocks and thorns from your life that may keep you from experiencing genuine growth.
You can till the hard dirt in the field of your heart to make it more receptive to the message. Having good soil isn’t luck and it isn’t automatic. Those who are producing a harvest in their life are doing so because they’ve done the hard work of farming their heart and cultivating its soil so that God’s message can have its maximum impact.
No matter where you’re at in your spiritual journey, you can do the same!
Which soil best represents your life and why? Which soil do you want to represent your life?
What are the rocks and thorns that are dominating your heart? Name them.
What steps can you take to remove rocks and thorns from your heart?
How can you till the soil of your heart so that it is more receptive to the message of God’s word?
What are the different ways God’s seed is being sown in your life?