Interpreting the parable of the sower as simply about coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus is missing its full significance. The familiarity of the story can cause you to switch off to an interpretation that is relevant to both the new and the experienced Christian. In part 2 of this series, we explore the pathway.
Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. (Mark 4:3-4)
These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. (Mark 4: 15)
The first seeds fall beside the road, on that hard pathway area that surrounds the field. There the seed doesn’t penetrate but just sits on the surface. Then the birds come and take it away and it has no impact at all.
Luke’s account says that the seed ‘was trampled underfoot’ (Luke 8:5). Jesus said ‘do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet’ (Matthew 7:6), referring to their indifference. You can be like that about the gospel itself, just indifferent to it by thinking nobody still believes that kind of thing or takes it seriously anymore. You can hear this in the media, the workplace, your family or sometimes from parents when you become a Christian. I remember my parents telling me not to take it all so seriously, no one takes that seriously anymore. The same seed that produces a hundredfold a few feet away reproduces nothing at all on the path. Why? Because the seed doesn’t penetrate. It doesn’t have any life imparting impact. It stayed on the surface.
This is obviously true for those who don’t even entertain the possibility that God speaks at all, but it’s also a very real warning to believers not to miss it. It’s possible for Christians not to bother to take the word seriously and not be changed. Sometimes we dismiss truth and the seed lies on the surface. The Bible says we have an enemy and that the seed sown on the pathway is snatched away by the evil one (Matthew 13:19). This can happen even before we get out of the door at Church. We had a chat, a cup of coffee and so on, but the word didn’t do anything in us. Whereas elsewhere it’s phenomenally changing people.
A friend of mine was visiting the church of a famous preacher. He said he was so impacted by the sermon that he just wanted to go home and seek God about what he’d heard. Walking behind two people, he heard one say to the other ‘he was quite good this week wasn’t he?’ and the other said ‘yes, but not as good as last week’. No penetration! Simply observing how the preacher performed. The seed simply lies on the surface.
So the pathway is dangerous turf. It says in Matthew 13:18 that the seed which falls on the pathway is referring to someone who ‘hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it’. Some will say ‘well you take me as you find me, I’m Joe Blunt, I speak my mind, I don’t take the bible very seriously because well, who can understand it? By not receiving the word, he’s not being changed by it. He’s not thinking ‘oh I see, I need to change my worldview on this, I need to change my attitude on this, the way I run my home, the way I look after my wife, the way I train my children’. He’s not being shaped by truth because ‘well who can understand it? The Bible’s difficult’.
Open your mind
When we don’t understand, it’s not because we’ve got low IQ, or we’re not very clever, it’s because we won’t become as a little child, and let it speak to us and give it full weight. Paul instructed that we consider what he said and the Lord will give us understanding (2 Timothy 2:7). That’s a twofold process. You consider it and the Lord will give you understanding.
When you first go to Starbucks, you read the menu and find lattes, americanos and cappuccinos and you think ‘all I want is a coffee!’ You’ve got to learn the language. And if we’re going to be serious about growing as a Christian, maybe producing a hundredfold, we’ve got to start understanding the language of scripture and letting truth penetrate. The word is able to change us. It’s able to do us good. It’s powerful. So beware the danger of just missing it and letting it stay on the surface ready for the bids to steal.
This post is adapted from a sermon preached at King’s Church Kingston called “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear”