Here is this parable as described in Luke and Matthew:
“Look, a farmer went out to plant – and as he was planting, some seeds fell by the wayside and the birds of the air came and devoured them. And some fell on rocky ground without much soil – and immediately they sprouted because they had no soil depth. But when the sun came up they were scorched – and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among the thistles, and the weeds grew up and choked them, and they yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good soil – and yielded a crop that sprouted up and grew tall and brought a harvest – some thirty, some sixty and some hundred-fold. One who has ears to hear with should listen.” (Mark 4:3-9)
“Consider the farmer who went out to plant – and as he planted, some seeds fell to the side and the birds came and ate them. Some fell on rocky soil and they sprouted quickly because there was no depth to the soil. But when the sun rose up, they were burned – and because they had no root, they withered. Some fell among weeds – and the thistles sprouted up and choked them. But others fell into good soil, and provided good fruit – some a hundred times, some sixty times and some thirty times. One who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matt. 13:3-9)
“A farmer went out to plant his seeds and as he planted, some fell on the side of the road and were trampled on and the birds flew over and ate them up. Other seeds fell upon rocks and as soon as they sprouted, they withered because they had no moisture. Other seeds fell among the thorns and thornbushes sprouted with them and choked them out. Other seeds fell into the good soil and grew tall and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As he spoke these things, he called out, “One who has ears to hear should listen.” (Luke 8:5-9)
Why are there differences between Mark, Luke and Matthew?
These three versions of the parable of the farmer and the seed are virtually the same with the exception of three things:
- Luke states that the first seeds were trampled on before the birds ate them. Matthew and Mark don't mention the seeds being trampled on.
- Luke states the second seeds fell on rocky ground and they withered due to lack of moisture, while Mark and Matthew state they couldn't root due to a lack of soil.
- Luke states the seed falling on good soil yielded a hundred times more than the amount of seed planted, while Mark and Matthew both state the seed that fell on good soil multiplied either a hundred or sixty times, with Matthew adding "or thirty times."
Are these differences critical? No. Yet they do give another dimension of the parable. The fact that the seeds that fell along the path were also trampled on, and the fact that moisture also played a part in the rocky soil seeds, and the fact that seed landing on good soil produced a variable amount of increases are all useful as the parable is understood.
How did Jesus explain this?Before reviewing the parable's meaning, let's understand how Jesus described it later:
“Don’t you understand this analogy? How then will you understand other analogies? The farmer planted the Teachings. Those who landed on the wayside from where the Teachings were planted – when they hear, the opposer of God comes immediately and snatches the Teachings that were planted in their hearts. Similarly with those who were planted in rocky soil – as soon as they hear the Teachings they receive it with joy. Yet they have no root within, so they hold it for awhile – but when affliction or persecution comes for the sake of the Teachings, immediately they fall away. Those who are planted among the thistles – they hear the Teachings, but the concerns of this world and the illusion of riches and the lust of other things enter and choke the Teachings and they yield no crop. Then there are those planted into good soil – they hear the Teachings and accept them and yield more crops – some thirtyfold, some sixty and some a hundred.” (Mark 4:14-20)While Jesus' description is clear - there are notable mistranslations within the text. Let's review each of the seed types in the parable:
"...some seeds fell by the wayside and the birds of the air came and devoured them."Jesus states in Mark 4:14 that: "The farmer planted the Teachings." What is "the Teachings"? It is being translated from the Greek word λόγος (logos), which means "doctrine, teaching" according to the lexicon. Jesus is speaking of his teachings - the teachings of God passed on through the generations - from Abraham to John the Baptist as clarified by Jesus. These are the teachings of love for God. The teachings of how to re-establish our loving relationship with the Supreme Being.
What is the meaning of 'the seed'?This means that the "seed" represents the teachings of love of God - handed out by God's representative.
Jesus describes the seed along the path in Mark 4:15: "Those who landed on the wayside from where the Teachings were planted – when they hear, the opposer of God comes immediately and snatches the Teachings that were planted in their hearts.."
What or who is "the opposer of God"? It is the setup of the physical world that tricks us into thinking we are these temporary physical bodies and we can claim ownership of things in this temporary physical world.
We might compare this deception with going to the movies. The movie theater contains very dark rooms full of comfortable chairs and a giant screen in the front. The moviegoer sits in the comfy chair and the lights go out and the movie is projected onto the big screen. The dark room tricks the movie-goer into forgetting the world outside for a while and in order to get lost within the movie.
The two-hour (temporary) movie is set up to trick the moviegoer into thinking that the movie is real - even though the scenes are all made of props, and the actors are all pretending to be someone they are not. All these elements are intended to help the moviegoer escape reality for a while and become lost within the movie's virtual reality.
In the same way, the physical world provides a virtual reality that helps those who want to escape their relationship with the Supreme Being an avenue to forget God and become enmeshed within the temporary physical world. This setup is far more complicated than going to the movies though. In the physical world, we are blocked from our spiritual identity by our physical senses and physical mind. The means to access the spiritual realm from the physical world must be provided by God.
Who is the opposer of God?
The world and many within it can be collectively called "the opposer of God" because they can act to block us from contact with God. Why would God set such a system up?
Because this is what we wanted. At some point, each of us rejected the Supreme Being and decided we wanted to enjoy life for ourselves. We didn't want to love God anymore. So He set up a world to give us the ability to virtually get away from Him and forget Him for a while.
"And some fell on rocky ground without much soil – and immediately they sprouted because they had no soil depth."In Mark 4:16-17, Jesus explains this verse as: "Similarly with those who were planted in rocky soil – as soon as they hear the Teachings they receive it with joy. Yet they have no root within, so they hold it for a while – but when affliction or persecution comes for the sake of the Teachings, immediately they fall away."
Remember that the seeds are "the Teachings". So what do the "roots" represent then? The "roots" symbolize determination. A person who is not determined to return to their relationship with God will be easily swayed by others and the various fantasies and false goals presented to us by the physical world and the physical mind.
Some of these are embedded into us from our youth, as our parents tell us we have to "do something important" with our lives - such as being a star or hero or otherwise famous, notable person, in the eyes of others. Other influences include philosophies that teach we should love ourselves first and some that even teach that we are God.
Yet for someone who is determined to come to know and love God, all of these stumbling blocks can also serve to increase our determination: They can provide learning experiences for us to understand the essential point. What is that?
The essential point is that the Supreme Being wants us to come home to Him only when we are determined to return to Him. Only when we have become committed to returning to His loving arms will we be granted our return home. Why is that?
Because He doesn't want us to frivolously return. He wants us to be serious.
Just imagine if a woman ran off from her husband to have an affair with another man. Then she returns. Will the husband automatically take her back? Assuming he still loves her - he will likely need to be confident the woman won't just run off again. He would want to make sure the woman is determined to make their marriage work. He would need to make sure she is serious about their relationship.
While the Supreme Being is far beyond a forsaken husband, He nonetheless values loving relationships. And because we rejected our loving relationship with Him and ran off to try to enjoy ourselves, we would need to be serious about our relationship with Him before we would be let back in.
This isn't for His sake. God doesn't need us. He has uncountable loving servants who cater to Him and care for Him. But because He loves us, He wants us to be happy. And the only way we can be happy is if we rekindle our loving relationship with Him.
Just as we are always chasing loving relationships in our lives, the Supreme Being also enjoys loving relationships. He is the source of loving relationships. In fact, He created us in order to exchange a loving relationship with Him. And because real love requires freedom, we were each given the freedom to love Him or not.
What do 'the thistles' mean?
"And some fell among the thistles, and the weeds grew up and choked them, and they yielded no crop."Jesus is describing another scenario that can take place for a person who learns the Truth and has the opportunity to re-establish their loving relationship with the Supreme Being. Jesus described this in Mark 4: 18-19 as: "Those who are planted among the thistles – they hear the Teachings, but the concerns of this world and the illusion of riches and the lust of other things enter and choke the Teachings and they yield no crop."
Someone who hears Jesus' teachings and does not apply them specifically, can get lost within the mirages of the physical world. The foundation for these mirages - and the source of the deceitfulness of the physical world - is the notion that we are these temporary physical bodies. The physical body is a temporary vehicle for the spiritual living being within.
With this misidentification of ourselves as these physical bodies comes the notion that the gratuities of this physical body bring us fulfillment or happiness. We think sex will make us happy. We think wealth or fame will make us happy. We think a shiny car or a big house will make us happy. We think a beautiful spouse and a big family will make us happy. Not only are all these things temporary: They do not make us happy. If we don't learn this from experience we can just look around at those who have all of these things and are not happy.
In fact, many who have all these things actually become depressed. Some take to drugs and alcohol to drown out their misery. Others commit suicide. So how can these things make us happy if those who "have it all" are not even happy?
This indicates a big disconnect. The disconnect is that we are not these physical bodies. It is like a hungry driver in a car pulling up to the gas station and thinking a full tank of gas will satisfy his hunger. The gas may fill up the gas tank but the driver will still be hungry. In the same way, material things of the physical world may fill up our body - but they don't touch us - the spirit-person within.
What is 'the good soil'?
"But other seed fell on good soil – and yielded a crop that sprouted up and grew tall and brought a harvest – some thirty, some sixty and some hundred-fold.”The element of variability is important here as pointed out above. This is because Jesus is referring to the productivity of a person who has understood Jesus' teachings and applied them to their lives. One person may reach out and influence thirty more people, while another person may influence a hundred more people - by passing on Jesus' true teachings - the teachings of love for God. Either way, it doesn't matter because these are ultimately the workings of the Supreme Being - who guides from within and without.
“One who has ears to hear with should listen.”Notice that Jesus puts emphasis upon hearing. Hearing means learning the teachings of love of God personally from God's representative. This is the process applied since ancient times as the teachings of love of God were given to Abraham by Melchizedek the "priest of God Most High." Then Abraham gave these teachings to Isaac, who passed them to Jacob, who passed them to his sons and "the priest of Midian" who passed them to Moses, who passed them to Joshua and his followers, and so forth. Later we find the lineage continuing as the teachings were passed from the priest Eli to Samuel, from Samuel to David, from David to Solomon and so on, and eventually to John the Baptist and then Jesus - and from Jesus to his disciples.
Essentially we see that the teachings of love for God were passed on from teacher to student. Why is this important? Because the teacher is not just passing on theology. The teacher is also re-introducing the student to God. We are speaking of relationships here. A person who has a relationship with God is introducing someone else to the personal aspect of the Supreme Being, so the student can also have a relationship with God.
Love, after all is personal. A person can only love another person. Love takes place between persons - a void or impersonal force cannot be loved. So love of God must come from a position of relationship.
The Supreme Being is ultimately a person. A person we can love. A person we can depend upon. A person we can take shelter in. This is because the Supreme Being is the Ultimate Person. He is the Perfect Person. He is that person we are each seeking as we search the world for our soul mate.
This is precisely why Jesus' first and foremost teaching was personal - loving the Supreme Being because He is a person:
“The most important of all the instructions is, ‘Hear O Israel – the LORD our God is our only Lord – and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ – this is the most important instruction." (Matt. 22:37-38)