Jesus has to teach this parable while sitting in a boat because he got crowded off the beach by the multitudes. Yet instead of basking in his great success as a preacher--relevant, dynamic and cutting-edge, who addresses the felt needs of today's Jewish audience--he launches into a parable that is specifically designed to mystify and discourage his hearers. Ironically, it turns out that this parable, which the multitudes don't seem to grasp, gives the explanation for why they can't grasp Jesus' parables. But we'll get to that in our subsequent posts. For now let's just make a few observations about the parable itself.
There is one sower who goes out to sow. The varied results of the sowing are not tied to different sowers, and therefore the point of the story is not the skill or technique of the sower. Nor are the results tied to the nature of the seed. This seed that the sower scatters at random is the same seed with the same potential for fruitful growth. The difference lies in the ground upon which the seed is thrown.
The road upon which some of the seed falls is hard ground. The seed doesn't sink into the dirt at all. Instead it goes bounce, bounce, bounce, and now it's just lying there waiting to get snatched up by the birds. Other seed falls upon rocky ground where the soil is thin. Oh sure, it springs up fast because the roots don't have to burrow down much, but that proves to be its downfall. Without deep roots, without any firm establishment in nourishing soil, it shrivels and dies under the first blast of the sun's heat.
Still other seed falls on soil where thorns also find a home. The seed sprouts and begins to grow, yet the growth of the thorns outstrips and chokes it. Evidently the soil is more suited for nourishing thorns than good plants. Lastly, some of the seed falls upon good soil. The dirt is soft and moist, solid roots are established, and thorns do not thrive there. This seed grows up healthy and strong so that over the years it yields crop after crop, thirty, sixty, even a hundred times over.
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Do the multitudes hear what Jesus is truly getting at? Why don't they hear? And why does Jesus speak in a way that eludes them? He'll explain more about that in the following passage.