It is with great humility that I approach this parable. Unfortunately, for most interpreters of Scripture, parables take on an allegorical interpretation. This is wrong. A parable is not an allegory. Thus, when we venture into a parable seeking an interpretation, the best thing is to check if Jesus or whoever told the parable gave the explanation. This was true when the prophet Nathan spoke to David and proclaimed, following a short parable, “Thou art the man.” Nathan gave the interpretation of his parable. It is just fair to let the speaker explain himself. And indeed in Luke 8, we have Jesus doing just that.
The seed in the parable, whether it falls on rocky, throny, or good soil, is the word of God (v.11). That’s what Jesus says. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus takes something that is very familiar to his audience (a sower sowing seed) and uses it to make an excellent point concerning the word of God in the hearts of men. I suppose if he were to use our modern-day language, he would use the same kind of teaching: take something familiar to the audience and use it to teach a profound, heavenly message.
The Seed on the Wayside
In the parable, the sower’s seed lands on the wayside and is trampled underfoot and eaten by the birds. What a graphic picture he paints, setting up his audience (indeed, us) for the truth concerning this part of the parable. The word of God trampled underfoot! By whom? Certainly men have done this in the past. But Jesus says this is the devil’s work. He hates the word of God for it is the saving power of God for all mankind. Hence, he snatches from the hearts of men who have heard it.
The Seed on the Rocks
The next patch of ground upon which the seed falls is the rocky places. It springs to life quickly. However, without adequate moisture and soil, the plant withers and dies. Jesus says these are the people who receive the word gladly and quickly. However, they are not equipped for the trials and tribulation ahead and their faith withers and dies. They are not really the disciple of Jesus, for although they heard and obeyed, their devotion to Jesus and his cause is only superficial.
The Seed among the Thorns
The seed next falls among thorns. It takes root, springs up, but the thorns spring up with it. After a time, the thorns choke out the life of the plant. Jesus says these are those people who have a devotion to Jesus but it is soon divided with other cares. Worry, riches, pleasure, whatever; it takes the place of the Word and hence, no fruit is ever seen within the individual. The “thorns” of life have choked out the once vibrant spiritual life.
The Seed in Good Soil
There is a type of soil in which the seed can thrive and grow and bear much fruit. It is in good soil. Certainly everyone in the audience would have agreed with that. Good soil is the best place for seed if you want a crop. In the parable, it brings forth a harvest of one hundred fold. Jesus says this type of person in which the word of God is received is the person who has the right heart, that is a “noble and good heart” (NKJV). With patience, this kind of person brings forth a great harvest of fruit.
What does Jesus teach us in this parable? Several things. First, a Christian must never be discouraged when the word of God is not received by a person. Jesus clearly teaches that there will be people who do not hear. In fact, that is what this who passage hinges on: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (v.8b) God gave them ears but they refuse to use and so be saved. And when explaining this parable, he begins with a general statement of purpose for parables. These people have the equipment to hear and see, but they refuse to use them for their intended purposes, choosing to remain blind and deaf to the word and will of God.
Second, it seems Jesus is teaching us about the importance of being a sower. We carry with us the precious word of God and every person, whether they want it or not, need it for in it is salvation Therefore, get it out, scatter it abroad and near.
Third, Jesus teaches us that those who were good soil have an obligation to the Lord. We must bear fruit. We must produce a harvest. It is not enough to receive the word and have no fruit to show for it. We must, with patience, bear fruit for the Master. We take the seed firmly planted within us and we sow it in the heart of another individual. We plant what we can, water what we can, God will give the increase.
One more brief word: this is not the formula for the world and the word. Jesus is not saying that 25% of the population is wayside and 25% rocky, etc. Jesus is using this parable to teach a valuable lesson about those who simply refuse to listen to the word. And before we can determine the listening capabilities of the world around us, we must answer this question first: are we listening to the Word of God?