“Don’t you understand this parable? If not, how will you understand all the parables?”
Jesus said this about the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4, as he began to explain the symbolism within.
Many, if not most, of the parables of Jesus begin with “the Kingdom of God is like.” In Matthew 13, Jesus connects the seed sown as the message of the Kingdom. He even explains why he explains the Kingdom in parables – the Kingdom is a mystery. As Jesus told Pilate, the Kingdom is not of this world, has its source in God in Heaven, operates by the rules of Heaven and not Earth. And here we have a parable connected to “all the parables.” It is the only one he says this about.
Why does he say this about the Parable of the Soils? Again, the seed that is sown is the Word of the Kingdom of God, the message of the Kingdom of Heaven. Spiritual things must be spiritually discerned, and if one has not received, accepted, and applied the message of the Kingdom, the other parables (about the Kingdom) make little or no sense.
The parable is simple: a man goes out to sow seed, and Jesus gives four different responses to the seed being sown.
A few points to consider before we get into the four different responses to the Word:
First, the man (Jesus and/or a disciple) sows the seed rather indiscriminately. In other words, he doesn’t check to see if the soil is right before he sows the seed. You would think a good farmer would check the soil first, in hopes of giving the seed the best chance of success. But when it comes to the message of the Kingdom, we cannot perceive what “good soil” is by external means. In fact, if we believe the parable, good soil proves itself by producing fruit.
Even Jesus would say, “He who has ears, let him hear.” We cannot determine, just by observation, whether a person is ripe for the Gospel of the Kingdom. Therefore, we declare it to everyone and let the seed of the Word take root and grow and bear fruit … or not.
Second, while each seed in the parable gets to a certain point of growth, only one lives, endures, and survives the process – the one that bears fruit. It is the fruit that is the goal, the point of the Gospel. As we see many times in the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament, life without fruit leads to death.
Third, it is an interesting question whether or not a person can be each one of these types of soil at different times in their life, or is an individual defined by one throughout their life?
The text suggests the second option, that a person is defined by one throughout their life. However, we must be careful not to see someone’s reaction to the Gospel of the Kingdom and label them. The scripture also makes it clear that while a person lives, there is hope for life, for acceptance of the Gospel. We should remember that the story isn’t over yet, and while it may seem that a person rejects the Gospel or does not bear fruit, there is always hope for repentance and life and fruit while a person still lives.
Speak the truth in love. Love believes and hopes and endures.