On another occasion Jesus began to teach by the sea. A very large crowd gathered around him so that he got into a boat on the sea and sat down. And the whole crowd was beside the sea on land. And he taught them at length in parables, and in the course of his instruction he said to them, “Hear this! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”
And when he was alone, those present along with the Twelve questioned him about the parables. He answered them, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that
‘they may look and see but not perceive,
and hear and listen but not understand,
in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.’”
Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. But they have no root; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”Mark 4:1-20
In Jesus’ Sermon by the Sea, he taught the crowd “many things” in parables, then paused and delivered a metaparable (a parable about parables), the Parable of the Sower. Why? Echoing the prophet Isaiah, Jesus diagnosed the spiritual condition of his audience:
“Seeing they may see and not perceive,Mark 4:12 (NKJV)
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.”
In both Greek and Hebrew, the verbs “see” and “hear” are doubled for emphasis, which some English translations mirror.
“Go, and say to this people:Isaiah 6:9-10 (RSV)
‘Hear and hear, but do not understand;
see and see, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people fat,
and their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
Parable after parable filled the eyes and ears of the people, but hearts grew dull (“fat”), and eyes and ears sunk in sloth.
Jesus explained: The seed of the word of God does not operate “automatically” on hearers. Receivers must prepare the soil of their hearts for the word of God to take root and be fruitful.
The receptive eye, ear, and heart are simple and pure.
The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!Matthew 6:22-23 (KJV and NKJV)
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.Matthew 5:8 (RSV)
The word of God flourishes in persons athirst for the living God, subordinating all other goods to the first, the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).