The parable of the sower appears to be one of the easiest parables of Jesus to understand because it’s one of the few that Jesus actually explains. As Mark shares the story in chapter 4, Jesus is surrounded by a large crowd so he gets in a boat, heads out into the water, and begins to preach. In his preaching he shares a story about a farmer who goes out to sow seed. The farmer is not placing one seed in a spot and moving to another but is instead freely spreading the seed, knowing that the plow coming behind him will help put the seed into the ground. As he works some of the seed falls on the path, rocky ground, or among the thorns. However other seed falls on the good soil and produces a crop of thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold. Jesus ends the parable by saying, whoever has ears to hear should hear.
Later, when Jesus is in private with his disciples he explains to them the meaning of the parable. While Jesus will explain the differences in the four types of soil there are really only two types of soil; soil that produces a good crop and soil that does not. The word of God is being sown among the crowds, however, many of them will not accept it. For various reasons, lack of faith, the cares of the world, or failure to develop roots, many will hear but not believe. However, for the disciples Jesus is explaining the secrets of the Kingdom and they will be the ones who fall on the good soil and produce yields of thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold. Whoever has ears to hear should hear.
At this point the conversation typically moves to an explanation of the different types of soil and an encouragement to be in the good soil. While these are good conversations, and Jesus clearly moves in this direction, there may be a part of the parable we miss because of our distance from the event. Many in the crowd would have understood the parable because they were farmers. Of these, most were probably some kind of tenant farmer, working a plot of land that did not belong to them entirely. They would work the land and give a portion to the owner of the land. This was their lot in life year after year with no real chance of changing the situation. Upward mobility was not always possible in the first century, there was more of a defined class system.
These farmers would have understood the parable as it followed a typical way of farming. When they scattered seed they knew that some of it would fall on bad soil, and while they tried to avoid it as much as possible, it could not be helped. What would have been surprising though was the amazing yield that was produced. It was hoped that a good crop would yield three to five times as much. A great crop might even get up to ten fold. But a crop of thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold was miraculous. A crop that large would change the farmers reality. If a farmer could yield a crop a hundred fold he could make enough money to buy his own land and change the future for himself and his family. He could raise his standard and have a true inheritance to pass on to future generations. While Jesus never promised this yield would happen, it would provide hope for the farmers that the future could be better than the present.
Thus Jesus is speaking not just of those who hear and obey and those who don’t, but about the abundant life that is possible through him. Jesus is offering hope. Hope that the future is brighter than the present. Hope that Jesus can provide an abundant life, a life of meaning and purpose. Hope that when one has ears to hear and follows the way of Jesus life becomes greater than anything imagined.
It is a hope in which the future reality is so meaningful that the present moment, even when full of pain and disaster, is worth living because the future changes the present. Our present situations are not hopeless. God is offering abundant life. A life centered on Jesus provides ultimate meaning. The Word has been sown. Those with ears to hear should hear.