Summary: In the parable of the sower and the seeds, Jesus identifies three categories of obstacles to maturity.
The Bible uses a lot of agricultural metaphors.
The prophet Isaiah describes Judah as a vineyard planted on a fertile hillside. “He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes…” (Isaiah 5:2)
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include Jesus’ parable about the sower and the seed.
These three gospels all contain a parable about a vineyard too. “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.” (Matthew 21:33-34)
In the gospel of John, Jesus makes it even more personal: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2)
The place of God’s people in these parables and metaphors varies. Sometimes we’re the vineyard collectively, sometimes we’re the stewards of the vineyard, and sometimes we’re the seed or the branch upon the vine.
God’s place never changes. He is always the Landowner, the Master Gardener, the Farmer.
God’s expectation never changes either. He always looks for production from his vineyard. He always desires his seeds to mature and yield a crop.
As most of you know, I like to garden. This year I planted squash and tomatoes and lettuce and peppers and a few other things. I really enjoy gathering the produce from my garden. But, to tell you the truth, I am always a little amazed when there is produce to gather. Gardening for me is a hobby. Whatever crop my garden yields is bonus.
For God, gardening is not a hobby. For God, gardening is not a diversion from other, more important, activities. God is the Master Gardener. His expectation never changes. He always looks for production from his vineyard. He always desires his seeds to mature and produce a crop … “multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” (Mark 4:8)
But the reality is that the vineyard does not always meet the gardener’s expectations. Isaiah used the metaphor of the vineyard in the context of proclaiming to Judah God’s disappointment. Despite all the loving care the Gardener expended, the vineyard in Isaiah’s time was producing sour grapes.
The reality is that the seeds do not always mature and produce a crop. Some seeds are trampled and eaten by birds. Some seeds put down only shallow roots and wither for lack of moisture. Some seeds are choked by thorns and experience only stunted growth.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:8)
Seeds have to come up, seeds have to mature, in order to produce a crop. Maturity does not always come easily or quickly. There can be obstacles to maturity.
In the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus identifies three categories of obstacles to maturity.
Before we look at these obstacles in more detail, I want to touch on one more idea.
Depending on soil and weather conditions, seeds grow more or less well. Some never germinate. Sometimes roots lack depth, so that the plant dies as soon as weather conditions are less than ideal. Sometimes weeds interfere with growth.
People are like seeds. Depending on our environment, people grow more or less well as followers of Jesus Christ. Some never come to faith. Sometimes faith is shallow and fades at the first sign of trouble. Sometimes the distractions of this world interfere with growth.
On the other hand, people are not like seeds. Seeds are passive. Seeds have no ability to nurture their own growth or the growth of other seeds. Seeds do not even have the ability to look to the gardener or to turn away from the gardener. People need not be passive. People can not plant faith within themselves nor can they make themselves grow by force of their own will, but they can nurture (or hinder) their own growth and they can nurture (or hinder) the growth of others. People can look toward the Gardener, or people can turn away.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
As Jesus explains the parable of the sower and the seed to his disciples, the first obstacle to maturity is unbelief. “Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:12)