Mark 4 has Jesus teaching the parable of the sower to the crowd gathered and when He and his immediate disciples were alone they asked Him its meaning (4:10).
It’s interesting that I think I understand the parable easily enough but I don’t understand His (4:13), “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” Obviously there’s a truth in that parable that affects our understanding of the rest of the kingdom parables—I don’t know just what He had in mind for while there are bits and pieces in the parables that I’m puzzled by, on the whole, I think they’re plain enough. What’s hard to understand in the parable of the “Good Samaritan”?
Depending on one’s theology and how it shapes our thinking what’s difficult is 4:11. But it’s difficult precisely because we read it in light of our settled convictions. God helping me I’ll say something about that another time. I’d like to focus on the overall message of the parable.
Here’s my underlying assumption: Jesus is this lovely, compassionate and miraculously empowered healer of people who not only cures physical diseases, He delivers people from demonic power and He declares their sins forgiven. In addition to that, a great prophet (John) has come in the spirit and power of Elijah bearing witness to Jesus as the Coming One (all this in Mark 1—3). This is new doctrine, supported by power that is used to bless and liberate, crowds followed Him as He proclaimed the kingdom (reign) of God and he became famous (1:14-15, 21-28).
With all that being true, how was it that the entire country did not receive Him as the coming King? For one reason or another crowds followed Him for a while but walked away! Established teachers explained that He was in league with the Devil (no doubt using Deuteronomy 13 to support their claim) and even one of His immediate followers, after being with Him for about three years, turned from Him and never came back. It’s true that the church leaders in their panic said (John 12:19), “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” But that was panic talking. To this day church leaders panic or become very discouraged because people are not “going after Him.” Other shrewd leaders come up with various kinds of gimmicks or wise policies or they lean heavily on crowd psychology or social-shaping theory to get people to “go after Him.” **
I find it easy to imagine why the church leaders opposed Jesus and I also find it easy to imagine His followers asking, “Why do people not receive you as we do? Why are you a celebratory to many but not the Messiah?”
There’s no panic in the parable of the Sower! Jesus didn’t go off to pray alone and spend that time wondering if He was indeed who He knew Himself to be. His mind wasn’t set on appearances and “success”. He knew who He was and He knew He was living in a world where people were tired, burdened, worried, sick, busy with life’s demands and He well knew that there is religion that closes their hearts to a true vision of God. The parable of the sower is the best kind of realism. It sees humans as humans and because it is the Son of God who tells this story it is how God sees humans.
We have John 12:19 when the church leaders were in panic but we have John 7:47-48 in their satanic arrogance when they rebuked their messengers who didn’t bring Him to them, “Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in him?” Explain in cultural, sociological, religious or psychological terms why they simply would not have Him but in the end it’s satanic. These elements are involved of course—we’re humans and God made us that way—but all these God- established realities have their limits; they are corruptible, corrupting and often corrupted.
We can guess how we will why it was that Judas betrayed Him. He was certainly overly-keen on money but the fact that he threw it away with an agonized confession that he had betrayed innocent blood encourages us to add other possible influences. But Luke makes it clear that whatever the other underlying reasons are, betraying Jesus is satanic (Luke 22:3-4). Even if one is maintaining his/her settled convictions when they renounce Jesus it’s satanic and sincerity or intellectual integrity is serving a satanic agenda.
In the parable of the sower Jesus is explaining (not in fullness—how could He?) His lack of “success”—He allows humans to be humans and since the world is as it is we will “always have the poor/the over-burdened/worried with us” (John 12:8). He doesn’t profess to tell the whole story but He does intend for us to see the world as it really is—as He saw it and we’d want to see it as He did.
He also makes this point! When people come to faith in Him they have not been conned! Good seed has been sown (and there lies one of the fundamental realities we need to note and by His grace and power practice). Given good hearts (and that reality needs discussed and developed) and good seed people turn to God as He is seen in Jesus Christ. They haven’t been duped, they’re not fools, they have embraced the wisdom of God in embracing Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). And while it might be more difficult at times, they believe that the proclamation of Jesus is the power of God as well as His wisdom. (Is that not a test?)
** We’re humans, God made us humans, He hasn’t changed His mind about that and the incarnation makes that point forever. So when we speak and embody the gospel we’re appealing to humans who are shaped by culture, neuro-psychology, emotions, intellect and whatever, that’s humans. It’s just that church leaders can be and are corrupted like everyone else and so we often manipulate and use our power to our own ends. Sigh.
(Holy One, help those you have trusted with your good seed to use it wisely and with generosity. Thank you for bothering! Thank you for eternally bothering. Thank you for letting us know that you know us and know very well that so many of us are tired and worried and filled with care. Let that good seed lead us to think noble thoughts of you. Thank you for making it plain that to reject Jesus is satanic. How tragic, how profoundly tragic it is to see Him (if indeed we are allowed to see Him) and spurn Him. In Him this prayer.)