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The Parable of the Sower

Mark 4:1-20, 26-29

This parable dominates Mark chapter four. Very few churches avoid it, if you ask anyone to name a parable, my guess would be hat this one would be in the all-time top five list of parables. Why? It's safe for a start, there's a nice clear interpretation of the passage direct from the lips of Jesus. It can't get any easier than that! The parable centres around the word of God and how people respond to it, another safe topic.

All that said, very few pastor's will point out the negative side of the parable. How many would like to see a three fourths failure rate on their teaching? Or that two thirds of the positive reception won't make it through to bearing fruit? Or that half those who do stay the course will have deep issues throughout that time? Most preachers won't come clean and admit that the odds are stacked against you from the start!

It has to be pretty tough for a farmer to watch so much of his hard work failing. You would think that the answer would be to withhold the seed--sow it carefully on the good ground, to go out and dig up the thorns and spend time on the preparations. Simple laws of economics demand that he not waste his investment, biggest bang for his buck.

But it seems that the farmer in the Kingdom runs on a different economy. Either he doesn't care how much seed he is wasting, or he has so much seed that "waste" there isn't a problem; if the seed is so plentiful, the farmer has complete freedom to toss it wherever he chooses. I think it's the latter, we serve a God who is generous in the extreme. His word is plentiful, he wants to speak to us and it does not matter if we "waste" it on bad soil.

I've always thought my task was to build the soil--make people receptive to God's word--but this parable says otherwise. Later in the chapter we see this:

Mark 4:26-29

He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain--first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."

The farmer has no clue as to how the takes root and shoots up. He only knows two roles, to sow the seed, and to reap the harvest later on.

God is generous with his word to us personally. He doesn't worry about scattering it on good or bad soil, or what our response will be. He wants to sow his word into us, God wants to speak to us. The economics of the Kingdom seem to be of "waste," a 75% failure rate, yet the successes are sweet. Thirty, sixty, a hundred are all mentioned, a return that far outweighs the apparent failure.

Plato proposed that human communication succeeds when three factors align correctly; ethos, logos and pathos. Ethos is the inherent trustworthiness of the speaker, their positive history and good standing with you. Logos is the truth and beuty of the message itself, the power and weight of it. Pathos is the receptiveness and emotional connection of the listeners.

Verse 14 says the seed is the logos, the message. John's gospel begins

John 1:1

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Everyone equates this with Jesus. So it's fair to say that the parable of the sower speaks of our reception of Jesus, but the word "logos" as wider aplication too. To Plato, it represented the truthful communication of a speaker, so it's also fair to apply the parable to situations outside evangelism. There is a clear parallel between Plato's "pathos" and the quality of the soil in the parable. Essentially this saysthat the receptive attitude of the hearer of any message is critical to the effect it has on them.

So where does that leave Plato's "ethos"? What does Jesus' parable tell us about the importance of the trustworthy nature or believability of the speaker/sower? Nothing. We have ot be really careful making arguements from silence when it comes to Scripture, but we can look to other passages for help. Paul's leter to the Philippians says that so long as the gospel is being preached, the motives can be anything (Philippians 1:15-18). In other words, ethos really isn't an issue. SO long as the same good seed is being scattered, the motives can range from the pure to the purely troublesome.

As homework, after an evening spent discussing this parable, one teacher asked his students to think about what kind of soil they were. Most would hope that we were good soil, receiving the message gladly and producing a plentiful harvest. Obviously, since the room was full of Christians, there were no "pathside" people who had not received the message.


by Paul Hawke