I have a confession to make, before we go any further. I was raised in Dallas, TX. My Dad has a farm which he loves to go to. He’s raised almost every crop you can think of: watermelons, cucumbers, squash, etc. And I hate farming. No, really, I hate it. Not just a little. So the few times I’ve actually “helped” him on the farm, I spent the whole time just waiting to be done.
The reason I say this is that I have a slight disadvantage when it comes to studying the Bible. It was written in an agricultural society, and even urban dwellers knew a lot more about farming than I do. That’s why many of Jesus’ stories have a setting that assumes that the listener/reader knows something about this. Of course I can overcome it, but it takes some extra study.
Add to this the fact that ancient Middle-Eastern farmers had slightly different practices from today. Back then, farmers would go up and down the fields and scatter their seed everywhere by hand, which by its nature would cause the seed to land in all types of soil or environment. What Jesus described in this story literally happened every day. We read the story and think “That’s a pretty crazy way to farm.” His first listeners would hear it and think “Well, duh! I just saw that exact thing last week. What’s Jesus’ point here?” All this is to say that a good study Bible is really helpful.
Then we come to one of the oddest-seeming passages in all the Bible. His disciples came to him and asked him about the parable. And he says something that’s pretty counterintuitive. The main point of parables, according to this passage, is not to make things clearer but to obscure them. Jesus did not want to make himself perfectly clear all the time. What?!?!? What type of teacher is that?!?!
Jesus had all types of people in his public audiences. Some were spies sent by the religious leaders to find something with which to accuse him. In front of these people Jesus didn’t want to say anything that would provoke a premature confrontation, so his speech would be purposefully vague at times. But there was another group of people whom Jesus had in mind as well. You could call these fence-sitters or thrill-seekers. They were casual hearers. They weren’t really there because they wanted a right relationship with God or to fill the hunger in their soul. And if they only heard what they thought was gobbly-gook, they'd move on.
But contained in these crowds there was final type of person. This was a true seeker. This was a person whom God was drawing with his Spirit. And if something that Jesus said didn’t make perfect sense, they wouldn’t let that turn them away. They'd keep seeking until they had real answers. Jesus’ parables would pique their curiosity, not be an excuse to write him off.
The point that I’m making is that Jesus is looking for quality of followers over mere quantity. In this age in which pastors are constantly looking at the numbers as an indication of the Lord’s blessing, this is a stark reminder. Yes, we desire to have everyone saved, just as our Savior God does. But it does no good to have someone walk an aisle, sign a card, pray a prayer, then walk away. In fact, if anything someone would end up worse off than they began.
There’s one other little note I’d like to make concerning this passage before we get to the parable. When his disciples came and asked him about it, he rebuked them pretty harshly. Mark’s Gospel, more than the others, records Jesus rebuking his disciples for a lack on their part. That’s a very intriguing point if, as church tradition says, Mark’s main source is Peter. That would be a testimony to the humility that Christ had worked into his apostle.
Since we’re already running a little long, let’s take the actual story tomorrow. I think you’ll find it worth your time.
Lord Jesus, I have to admit that I can relate to the disciples pretty frequently. Please give me understanding and a soft heart to listen and obey.