Mark 4:13-20


Mk. 4:13-20

“Don’t you understand this parable?” he said to them. “How then will you understand all the parables? What the sower is sowing is the word. The kind of people represented by the case in which the seed fell by the side of the road, are those in whose case the word is sown, and whenever they hear it, immediately Satan comes, and snatches away the word that was sown into them. Just so, the kind of people represented by the case in which the seed was sown on the rocky ground, are those, who, whenever they hear the word, immediately gladly welcome it. They have no root in themselves, but they are quite impermanent; and then, when trouble or persecution happens because of the word, they immediately stumble and collapse. Then there are the others who are represented by the case in which the seed was sown among thorns. These are the people who hear the word, but the anxieties of this world and the deceptive attraction of wealth and the desires for other things enter into them and choke the life out of the word, and it never gets a chance to bear fruit. The kind of people who are represented by the case in which the seed fell on good ground are such as hear the word and receive it and bring forth fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

Every detail of this parable would be real to its hearers because every detail came from everyday life. Four kinds of ground are mentioned.

(i) There was the hard ground at the side of the road. The seed might fall on this kind of ground in two ways. The fields in Palestine were in the form of long, narrow strips; these strips were divided by little grass paths, which were rights of way; the result was that they became beaten as hard as stone by the feet of those who used them. As the sower scattered his seed some might well fall there; and there it had not a chance to grow.

But there was another way of sowing. Sometimes a sack of seed was put on the back of an ass; a hole was cut in the corner of the sack; and then the beast was led up and down as the seed flowed out. Inevitably as the ass was brought along the road to the field some of the seed fell on the road; and just as inevitably the birds swooped on it and gobbled it up.

There are some people into whose hearts Christian truth can find no entry. This is due to the hearer’s lack of interest; and that lack of interest comes from a failure to realize how important the Christian decision is. Christianity fails to make an impact on so many people, not because they are hostile to it, but because they are indifferent. They think that it is irrelevant to life and that they can get on well enough without it. That might be true if life was always an easy way where there were neither tensions nor tears; but in fact there comes to every man a time when he needs a power not his own. It is the tragedy of life that so many discover that too late.

(ii) There was the rocky ground. This was not ground full of stones; it was a narrow skin of earth over a shelf of limestone rock. Much of Galilee was like that. In many fields the outcrop of the rock through the shallow soil could be seen. Seed which fell there germinated all right; but because the soil was so shallow and held so little nourishment and moisture, the heat of the sun soon withered the sprouting seed and it died.

It is always easier to begin a thing than to finish it. A certain famous evangelist said: “We have learned that it takes about five per cent. effort to win a man to Christ, and ninety-five per cent to keep him in Christ and growing into maturity in the church.” Many a man begins the Christian way only to fall out by the wayside.

There are two troubles which cause this collapse. One is the failure to think the thing out and to think it through, the failure to realize what it means and what it costs before the start is made. The other is the fact that there are thousands of people who are attracted by Christianity but who never let it get beyond the surface of their lives. The fact is that with Christianity it is a case of all or nothing. A man is safe only when he has given himself in total commitment to Christ:

“Is there a thing beneath the sun, That strives with thee my heart to share? Ah! tear it thence, and reign alone, The Lord of every motion there.”

(iii) There was the ground that was full of thorns. The Palestinian farmer was lazy. He cut off the top of the fibrous rooted weeds; he even burned off the top; and the field might look clean; but below the surface the roots were still there; and in due time the weeds revived in all their strength. They grew with such rapidity and such virulence that they choked the life out of the seed.

It is easy to pack life with such a multiplicity of interests that there is no time left for Christ. As the poet said, the cares of life can be like the clogging dust until “we forget because we must and not because we will.” The more complicated life becomes, the more necessity there is to see that our priorities are right, for there are so many things which seek to shoulder Christ from out the topmost niche.

(iv) There was the good, clean, deep soil in which the seed flourished.

If we are really to benefit by the Christian message the parable tells us that we must do three things. (a) We must hear it; and we cannot hear unless we listen. It is characteristic of so many of us that we are so busy talking that we have no time to hear, so engaged in arguing that we have no time to listen, so occupied in advancing our own opinions that we have no time to attend to the opinions of Christ, so much on the move that we have no time for the essential stillness.

(b) We must receive it. When we hear the Christian message we must really take it into our minds. The human mind is an odd and dangerous machine. We are so constructed, in the wise providence of creation, that, whenever a foreign body threatens to enter the eye, the eye automatically closes. That is an instinctive, reflex action. Whenever the mind hears something that it does not want to hear it automatically closes its door. There are times when truth can hurt; but sometimes a distasteful drug or an unpleasant treatment must be accepted if health is to be preserved. To shut the mind to truth we do not want to hear is the straight road to disaster and to tragedy.

(c) We must put it into action. The yield in the parable was thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. That is a large yield but the volcanic soil of Galilee was famous for its crops. Christian truth must always emerge in action. In the last analysis the Christian is challenged, not to speculate, but to act.

All that is the meaning of this parable when we sit down and study it at leisure. But it is quite impossible that all that would flash upon men’s minds as they heard it for the first time. What, then, would be the one thing which flashed out on the crowd who heard it for the first time beside the Sea of Galilee? Surely this–that, although part of the seed never grew, the fact remained that at the end of the day there was a splendid harvest. This is the parable to end despair. It may seem that much of our effort achieves no result; it may seem that much of our labour is wasted. That is how the disciples were feeling, when they saw Jesus banished from the synagogue and regarded with suspicion. In many places his message seemed to have failed, and they were discouraged and down-hearted. But this parable said to them, and says to us, “Patience! Do your work. Sow the seed. Leave the rest to God. The harvest is sure.”


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