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Probably the best known parable in the gospels would be the parable of the sower. This is probably because it contains Jesus' own explanation of what it meant, thus giving us an example of how to interpret all of the parables. The account in Matthew's Gospel (Chapter 13) is possibly the most read version.

However, if you are like me, with an inquisitive mind and an agricultural background, you may well ask two questions. The first would be "But why did the seed get into these "bad" parts at all?" The second would be that it seems a little strange that God's Word goes out and is allowed to have failures. Now it may not come as any surprise but the answer to the two questions are very closely related.

Let's have a brief look at look at Jesus' own explanation as to the meaning of this parable in Matthew 13:18-23. Just take a few minutes to read through this passage.

18. Listen then to the [meaning of the] parable of the sower:
19. While anyone is hearing the Word of the kingdom and does not grasp and comprehend it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the roadside.
20. As for what was sown on thin (rocky) soil, this is he who hears the Word and at once welcomes and accepts it with joy;
21. Yet it has no real root in him, but is temporary (inconstant, lasts but a little while); and when affliction or trouble or persecution comes on account of the Word, at once he is caused to stumble [he is repelled and begins to distrust and desert Him Whom he ought to trust and obey] and he falls away.
22. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the pleasure and delight and glamour and deceitfulness of riches choke and suffocate the Word, and it yields no fruit.
23. As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the Word and grasps and comprehends it; he indeed bears fruit and yields in one case a hundred times as much as was sown, in another sixty times as much, and in another thirty.
Amplified Bible

It is quite clear from this passage that the four groups of hearers of God's word are clearly defined. I doubt if there would be any real arguments on that one.

The question is more to the point of trying to understand why God's Word actually ends up with people that come into the first three groups.

We turn again to the agricultural answer for an explanation. Even though only basic sowing of the seed was know in the days of Jesus and that process was simply to cast the seed by hand into the area of ground that had been prepared for the sowing. This method is still practiced in many parts of the world, especially where plots of ground are small or the farmers are to poor to purchase the necessary machinery. However, modern agricultural methods are not able to totally overcome these issues so we are not that much better off.

Certainly planting by machine certainly reduces the first issue that is mentioned, that is the aspect of the exposed seeds being eaten by birds (and animals) because the method of planting actually buries the seed beneath the soil. However, if you have observed such planting, some grain still is found on the surface and birds and animals are known to scratch away the soil in order to find what has been buried, especially in drought times when food for wildlife is a little harder to find. Modern methods still cannot completely change the quality of the soil (here described as shallow) and for sometimes unexplained reasons random areas of the ground will be not able to support the young plants for a variety of reasons, some which may not be obvious.

The seed among the thorns issue is still with us and no matter how well a farmer prepares his soil, weeds are going to appear. Remember that the true definition of a weed is any plan that is not desired in the place it is found. For example, oats that are found growing in an area planted for wheat would have to be considered a weed, because it is not what is wanted in that patch of soil.

So despite the refining of agricultural methods, the same issues can still apply.

How do we translate this back in to the interpretation of this parable?

Just as Jesus said there were the four fundamental groups of people in His day, so it is today.

Let's look at each of these groups in our modern situation.

There has certainly been a great refining of how God's word is presented to people. We have the marvels of technology and the wonders of modern methods of teaching people how to present the message to people. Especially when we consider the technology aspect, there are some truly marvellous and sometimes very catchy methods that can be used and many of these would have to be considered quite brilliant.

However, the method might be good but if the user is not skilled at using the particular method, then no matter how good the method, there is a weakness in the presentation and that weakness will translate into "failures" of results. Now this should not be so much a reflection or condemnation of the presentation but rather is a pointer to the fact that the presenter maybe should either not be using that method or should learn how to use the method correctly. It needs to be pointed out that we don't all have the same abilities, which is probably just as
well because we would be so boring if were all the same because we would know exactly what was coming next and therefore would have no interest.

Thus the first thing needed to be looked at is what gifts God has given the messenger to allow him/her to present the message. As an example, no-one would think twice about overlooking a tone deaf, monotone "singer" to take on a lead role in something like Handel's Messiah. Yet, it is amazing how those same people will let someone who doesn't have the right abilities to use a skilled method of presentation.

Let's assume that the right skills/gifts have been matched with the right methods. Will that assure success? Not at all. Let's look at why this might be the case.

Those who do not want to hear God's message will not hear it, no matter how well presented it might be. The devil has hardened their hearts and, no matter what is said, that hardness will not disappear to allow them to hear and act. The irony is that they may well comment on how good the presentation and/or the presenter was but they didn't hear the actual message. That is not a reflection on the messenger, it is a sign of how well the devil has blinded them to the love of God.

For those in the group that react immediately, well, they are those people who will react to anything be it good or bad, no matter what the message may be. They are always looking for something new to get "involved" with and will run with it. As soon as the fad passes (often within a few days) they will move on to something new. Again, this is not a reflection on the messenger but another of the devil's actions to make it look good and give people, especially the messenger, a false sense of success and satisfaction. Like the first group, they can amount
to nothing, no matter what they receive because their lives are too "shallow" for anything to take hold and bring them to a better life.

Trials and riches of this world are hard competitors for the Gospel message. People in this group may mean well in accepting the message but because they choose not to get a complete hold on the message, no strength is built up in their personal life and when some trial comes along, or they are faced with a choice of "getting rich quick", so to speak, they will abandon the message that was sustaining them in preference for an easier path, without realising that they have removed themselves from the pathway to life and replaced it with ultimate self-
destruction. There is little the messenger can do in this case either, other than making sure that the message has been clearly explained, especially the aspect that says trials and tests will come with the choice to follow Jesus.

Failure then has little (but not nothing) to do with the messenger. For the messenger, there is a clear message and that is that the devil is alive and well on planet Earth and will try and keep as many souls as he can from finding eternal life.

If you are a messenger, then be sure that you deliver the message in the way God has destined you to do and then leave the rest up to Him. I love the catch cry that is around at the moment and it is so applicable to what we have been talking about.

You catch them and let God clean them.

You can't, as a messenger, get a better deal than that.