“The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ … But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:13, 16-17)
In other words, the way we hear them tells us how receptive we really are to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus uses this first parable to set us up for the seven parables that will follow. They will be all about the Kingdom of God. This one is about the character of God, and how God reveals that character to those who recognize it. It’s a perfect example of a story that reads us. It shows how parables reflect back to us our ability to understand them.
Throughout this 13th chapter of Matthew, Jesus keeps saying, “those who have ears, let them hear; anyone with ears, listen!” In other words, these stories will find the ones who can understand them. As you listen to the story, it will “read” you, and identify which kind of recipient you are by the way you hear it. The depth of our understanding depends on our willingness to be changed by what we hear.
For example, you can take the story at face value: seeds get sown, and where they land determines how well they will grow.
Or, you can try to assign meaning to the parts of the parable, treating it strictly as an allegory. The Sower is God, the Word is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the soil is our hearts. Using this interpretation, and the explanation Jesus gives of this story, we might think the point is to do everything we can to become good soil.
But there’s a problem with this approach: we can’t change the kind of soil we are – only God can do that.
The bigger problem with this kind of interpretation is that it makes the story be about us, about the soil. But the story is not about you (be good dirt); the story is for you. This parable, like all scripture, is really about God and God’s extravagant generosity. So let’s focus on that for a moment.
God is the Sower, scattering seed liberally, even wastefully, everywhere. God sows. It’s what God does. It’s what God keeps on doing. God keeps throwing seeds, regardless of where the seed might land. God is love, and love is generous, lavish, abundant, eager to share what is good. God will not withhold the Word from anyone. God will not deny anyone access to the Good News.