The Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Sower, the Seeds and the Soil.

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across the field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” (Matthew 13:3-9; Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8).


At this point in His ministry, Jesus has crowds following Him all over the countryside. Wherever He goes, crowds gather. One day He decided to leave His house to go to the Lake, the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is on the shore, ready to teach another large group of interested listeners, when He gets crowded out. Too many people. So He climbs into a nearby boat, sits down in the boat, uses the boat as His pulpit and the water as His megaphone. Jesus addresses the throng with parables as they stand there on the beach. His first parable is an important one, about a sower, the seeds, and the soils.


a. Everywhere Jesus went, He told simple stories about commonplace people or events. All these stories had spiritual meaning. In this case, everyone listening to Him in the boat has either seen a sower at work or has sown himself. The sower always had a big bag of seeds draped on his shoulders. He would grab handfuls of seeds out of the bag and throw them indiscriminately around the field. The sower would broadcast the seeds, scattering them everywhere, knowing some seeds might be wasted on a nearby footpath, in the occasional gravel, or among the thorns and brambles. The sower also knew that many seeds would hit pay dirt, fertile soil. And there these seeds would be buried, grow roots, and become fruitful. This was the common process of sowing. It was how it was done, and everybody knew that.

b. But Jesus is using this commonly accepted slice of rural life to teach an important spiritual lesson. Jesus is planting in the listeners’ mind a picture of His role as Messiah. He is explaining to them that He is the Sower, and His job is to sow seeds of God’s Word in the world. He is to broadcast seeds of Kingdom life, of God’s message, into people’s hearts as He continues in His ministry. In fact, sowing IS His ministry. The sad truth is that the sown seeds meet with resistance, the growth process is often frustrated, and the seeds are lost or taken away or made unfruitful. Jesus the Sower rejoices when He finds fertile soil in the heart of the listener, but He isn’t surprised when He finds His purposes thwarted.

c. And so Jesus discusses four kinds of soil in this crucial story. This is one of the very few parables that He explains to the disciples (Matthew 13:18-23). This story can be applied in several ways: Jesus is the Sower, and we each have all four kinds of soils in our heart; Jesus is the Sower and all four kinds of soils are found in any listening audience, including the church; each believer is the sower of the word, and is not surprised to find all four kinds of soils in the listeners. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have certainly seen all these soils on display in our own hearts as we hear the Kingdom word, depending on the season in our life, our mood, our personality. And it’s clear each believer continues the sowing tradition of Jesus. We are each apprentice sowers, junior partners in the sowing business, and we will certainly  meet with resistance as we spread the word.


#1 – The Footpath – This is the hardened soil due to the traffic of too many people. The ground is so hard that the seed can’t penetrate the soil, and just lays on the surface, ready for the hungry birds to snatch them up. This soil has a mind that is too occupied to focus on the truth of the message. It is a mind so distracted that a kernel of truth isn’t able to compete with all the other seeds dropped onto the mind. The heart cannot receive this seed, because the mind is too preoccupied to understand it. This busy mind just can’t take the seed in, truth can’t penetrate the busyness. This is the mind addicted to the smart phone, social media, news, online conversations, gossip, television and movies, or any number of other distractions that the modern world has to offer. Too much traffic like this keeps the silent, thoughtful word of truth from being welcomed in. If the seed of the word doesn’t go beneath the surface, the seeds lay out there in the open, and the evil one simply snatches them away. The shallow, distracted mind makes a footpath of the heart. An occupied mind can’t go deep enough for the seed to be buried and grow roots. Do we want to keep the evil one from stealing away with the truth that has been dropped onto our heart? Be disciplined to read Scripture deeply, not merely skim it as we might our email. Be determined to soften our heart,  lose those traffic jams in our mind. The evil one is an expert in taking advantage of the preoccupied mind as well as the hardened, distracted heart.

#2 – The Gravel – The seeds that fall in the midst of all those little rocks is able to grow some roots quickly. But then the weather kills the seed. There isn’t enough topsoil to capture the needed moisture and grow deep roots. The roots are insufficient to support a growing seed. The first hot sun in daily life renders the seed unfruitful. The word-seed is first accepted with great joy and confidence, but that seed is soon not able to withstand the difficulties of everyday life: the strong temptation; the ups and downs of modern life; the persecution and rejection that most believers will face at some point. This meager plant grows quickly but isn’t strong enough, because it wasn’t allowed to grow sufficient roots. The mind did not have the self-discipline to remove the gravel. This mind did not go to work to take away the obstacles to growth and understanding. The heart didn’t fully experience the seed, even though there was much enthusiasm at the first sowing. Growing involves taking the seed seriously, removing the impediments in our mind and heart. Don’t depend on the initial acceptance of the word, and instead move beyond religious platitudes and experiences. Get rid of the gravel so we can grow roots. Rid ourselves of anything in thought or action that is keeping us from growing strong and deep… the gravel of unrepentance; of superficiality; of biblical ignorance; of spiritual laziness; of addictive behavior; of obsessive busyness. Remove the gravel, and grow roots. We will then be strong enough to face life’s harsh weather and inevitable resistance.

#3 – The Thorns – This soil is full of thorn plants. The sower didn’t weed out the thorns on a part of the field, and it became a major problem. Or maybe the field seemed cleared of thorns, but they unexpectedly grew up around the little seed plants. In either case, the word-seed was growing just fine, actually. It was growing roots, it was in fertile soil. The rocks have been cleared, the ground is open and receptive to seed growth, and the soil is away from the beaten path. But this time the obstacle to growth is the disturbing presence of thorns and brambles. They grew so plentiful in this part of the field that they ended up crowding out the seed growth. The fragile plant was choked, it was suffocated by all the thorns, and the little plant died. The seed didn’t have a chance to flourish. The plants were strangled of its life. What are the thorns of our life? The cares limited to this life; the lure of riches and material things; the worries of pursuing more possessions. The thorns in our heart are seeking the pleasures of this life, the ambition for power and success. The obsessive desire for worldly things will choke the life out of faith. It will crowd out one’s impulse of seeking first the things of the Kingdom. The mind that doesn’t know how to control worldly desires and pleasures leads to a heart that is not receptive to Kingdom life. Even a growing faith can fall prey to the slow-choke of riches and things. If we’re not careful, selfish ambition and earthly desire gradually suffocates what once was a growing faith.

#4 – Fertile – This is what is needed for the seeds to flourish… soil that is receptive and soft, cleared of rocks and thorns, away from human traffic. To varying degrees, interestingly, the seed of the word that is sown in a fertile field will be productive and fruitful. The growing seed will make good use of everyday weather and conditions. The fertile mind and heart will understand and obey what the word has to say. The plant will be strong to withstand life’s problems and distractions. The growing seed will become a thing of joy as the sower patiently waits for fruitfulness. Our instant world that produces a library of information at the click of a button might make it easy for us to be impatient. But the productive sower will understand that fruitfulness takes time and care. We as the fertile soil will likewise be patient as it listens and receives, as it understands and obeys, and finally protects and nurtures. Our inner response to the sower’s seed will determine our growth and fruitfulness.


Barbara Brown Taylor offers a profound insight on another way we could look at this parable: God’s generosity… “the extravagance of a sower who flings seeds everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon, and just keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters… If this is really the parable of the Sower and not the parable of the different kinds of ground, then it begins to sound quite new. The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our Maker, the prolific sower who does not obsess about the conditions of the field, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere… The Sower casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into this seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of His truth.” (from her book, The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons in the Gospel of Matthew).


  1. Why did Jesus pick this particular parable to explain to His disciples?
  2. Do you lean towards one of these soils in your own heart?
  3. Is this particular era in history prone to one type of soil?
  4. Is there another type of soil not mentioned in this parable?
  5. Did you ever think of the sower that way? What a generous God!