Matthew 13:18 begins the explanation of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-8): “Whoever hears the words of the kingdom…” The words of the kingdom, then, are the seeds scattered on the four types of ground in Matthew 13:1-8. Before going any further, I read up on some basic biology: a seed, according to Wikipedia, is an “embryonic plant enclosed in a protective outer covering called a shell” with almost everything it needs to develop (except water) that can be naturally transported by wind, water or animal but cannot seek out favorable conditions for growth on its own. In other words, a seed is a baby plant with a knapsack totally out of control of where it goes. The youngling lies dormant until it’s ready to sprout, waiting for water, which triggers germination. So the words of the kingdom, then, are embryos carrying everything but one ingredient with them wherever they may fall, waiting for the right moment to shoot out a root.
They may land on harsh soil, barren land, thorn bushes or fertile ground – they are not in control of their destination. The soil in the parable is the heart of the hearer, so is the hearer in charge of whether the words of the kingdom take root? Who is the seed scatterer, or sower, in the first place? Is the “soil” of the heart of the one who hears the word and understands them already fertile ground or is the ground made good by comprehending the word? And what, if we continue the analogy of words of the kingdom as seeds, is the “water” they need to germinate? I’ve typically heard the parable of the sower in an evangelism context: the sower is the proclaimer of the good news and the soil is the hearts of all who hear – there’s a 25% chance you’re going to plant in good soil so you should probably be sharing your faith wherever you go so that some of it may be chance hit that fertile land.
Jesus does directly explain that seeds = words of the kingdom of God and soil = hearts of the hearers of the word of the kingdom of God. But to me, the sower seems careless. What kind of farmer has the economic stability to waste so many seeds on bad ground? I’m not sure who the sower is but I think one point is that the words of the kingdom of heaven will find ways to produce a harvest whatever the wind, water or animal that transports them to whatever soil they may land on. After all, God’s word will not return to God void (Isaiah 55:11): there will be a harvest.
The one who hears and understands produces this harvest. That is, she or he bears fruit – might this be the fruit of the Spirit? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). So the “seeds” (the words of the kingdom) produce the “plants” of love, joy, peace, etc…and eventually, voila! You get oaks of righteousness (Isaiah 61:3)! But what is the water that triggers the germination of these seed-words of the kingdom? In all four cases, the words of the kingdom are heard. In the first case, the one who hears does not understand and the enemy snatches the seed. In the second, the one who hears takes immediate but short-lived joy and no root is produced. In the third, the lure of the wealth and the world choke out the words of the kingdom like a thorn bush. In the fourth, the one who hears understands and produces a manifold harvest. What’s the difference?
From the text, it seems like “understanding” is what’s different about the fourth scenario; it is the “water” that signals the seed-word to begin to sprout. But does his or her understanding of the words of the kingdom come from him or herself? As we’ve seen, the understanding of the secrets of the kingdom of God were given to them (Matthew 13:11) – we are, according to Proverbs 3:5, not to lean on our own understanding anyway but rather trust the Lord with all our hearts (incidentally, this is where the seed-words fall in the parable). So if it is the Lord who waters the seeds – that is, gives understandings of the words of the kingdom, even though it may seem exclusive (only 25% of soil will support seed growth), it’s for an inclusive purpose. First, it’s not clear that just because 75% of the available soil is bad that 75% of the seeds will thus be wasted. Second, the 25% of land that does produce yields 30, 60, and 100 fold. If this fruit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, 30, 60 and 100 fold should be more than enough to go around! Especially if all people will know the disciples of Christ by the love we have for one another (John 13:35).