PictureGarret Walker, “The Sower”The Parable of the Sower is one of Jesus’ most familiar parables, which he described as decisive for understanding all the parables: “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mk. 4:13) Matthew says the seed is “the message of the kingdom” (13:19). Of course, any Jew of Jesus’ day would have naturally understood this message to involve the Jewish-messianic-kingdom. Just as the disciples questioned Jesus after his resurrection, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Thus, Jesus’ parable concerns how people respond to the message of the coming “King of the Jews” (Mt. 27:11), the One who will judge the living and the dead, restore the heavens and the earth, and rule gloriously from Jerusalem—i.e. “the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11).

Such a message is quite offensive to many Gentiles, since it is so blatantly Jewish and “Israelocentric”. For many it’s also quite “embarrassing,” since it smacks of “primitive,” pre-Enlightenment religion. Yet those who reject it are categorized by Jesus as seeds along the path, which will not “be saved” (Lk. 8:12). Being both Jewish and offensive to modern sentiment, it naturally draws persecution, for it demands, among other things, religious exclusivity (there is only one way to be saved), the laying down of ambitions for this life (take up your cross daily), and the acknowledgement of Jewish election (the gospel is to the Jew first, and also the Gentile). Those who seek first the approval of men and refuse to take a stand for anything in this life will thus forfeit eternal life; these are the seeds among the rocks. Such a message also demands our very lives. Those who think they are exempt from laying down this life will find themselves quietly torn between two masters: “the desires for other things come in and choke the word” (Mk. 4:19); “the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life.” (Lk. 8:14) These are the seeds among the thorns—those who are deceived into thinking they can get away with living for this life and eternal life. Oh God, help us to be “the seed on good soil” (Lk. 8:15); “the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit” (Mk. 4:20).