Summary: How open are you to the words of Jesus? Many of us are so hardened that His words bounce off, for others the past, present and future make our minds unable to process His thoughts. Today we examine the pliability of our minds.
Puzzles can be fun or extremely frustrating. Some people look at the pieces of a puzzle poured out on a table and have no idea what to make of it. They pick up a piece or two and nothing seems to make sense. They can’t see the whole picture and they aren’t willing to work it out. But others see the puzzle as a challenge. Each one has his or her own strategy for attacking the puzzle. Some look for edge pieces, others for similar colors or patterns, still others try to match unusually shaped pieces together. Part of the enjoyment of puzzles is solving the challenge and seeing the final work displayed.
Mark takes a brief break from the actions of Jesus to focus on His words. The actions demonstrate what He can do, but His words clarify and challenge people to understand who He is and what it means to be His disciple. Yet He speaks these words in puzzles called parables. Why? Let’s find out:
The Greek indicates this was the largest crowd yet, so large that it forced Jesus not to have a boat ready but to actually get into a boat out in the lake. Being out on the water also created a natural public-address system as His voice reflected off of the surface of the water.
2 – 9 The Parable of the Sower
First of all, what is a parable? It is a likely fictional story featuring familiar situations on earth to illustrate profound spiritual truths. Why did Jesus use so many parables? He’ll explain in a bit, but first—the Parable of the Sower (which is really about the soil)
Notice as well how Jesus begins: “Listen! Consider…” All through this section Jesus will repeat the importance of having a listening ear and a considering heart. When it comes to learning about ultimate truth and understanding God your heart must be open to taking in, and then digesting what God is telling you. The word “listen” is also an imperative. Action on the words is more important than mere comprehension.
Farmers in those days did not plant in neat rows like today. They walked and scattered seed by hand from a bag slung over their shoulders. No matter how accurate the farmer intended his tosses, some seed would fall on the paths next to the field, some would be carried away by the wind, or end up on the unplowed edges of the field with the weeds or in the areas where rocks prevented him from plowing effectively—so the farmer had to sow liberally.
The hearers would have nodded in familiarity with the picture. As to what it means, we get that straight from Jesus in a moment. But notice that the crowds only got the story. It was up to them to ponder, then asking questions perhaps of Jesus or the disciples, of what it meant and what it meant to them. Jesus wants us to be curious and probing. Later, Jesus explained why he taught in parables, but only to His followers.
Essentially, Jesus is setting up two groups: those “inside” are true disciples and have understanding. The “secret” just means “hidden.” They have “ears to hear.” The others (“outside”) reject Jesus, so to them the stories seem silly, just as much of the Bible is a mystery to many people. Jesus gave out His truth in puzzles, but they are not that hard to solve if you just work on them!
The scripture he quotes is from Isaiah 6:9. Jesus is telling His followers that the message will be received about like the Israelis received it in Isaiah’s time—it fell on deaf ears then just like it will now. So did Jesus purposefully hide things from people? Though there is some debate on this, it seems likely that Jesus’ purpose is merely to affirm the choices people have made, much like God affirmed Pharaoh’s choice to harden his heart but helping him out. Seven times Pharaoh hardened his heart and then God hardened it seven times. In the end we will get what we want.
So let’s explain what Jesus meant by the parable:
13 – 20
First we need to understand that puzzling out this parable is key to understanding any of the parables. Why is that? Because only a mind that listens and considers the words of Jesus can understand and follow Jesus. The Lord wants us to engage with Him. “Come let us reason together” says Isaiah 1:18. Set the plow deeper. Let your mind really mull over what Jesus says about who He is.
There are basically four soil conditions Jesus uses to represent the various conditions of the mind that hear “the word” which is the gospel.
14 – 15 Along the path