Note: The Parable of the Sower is immediately followed by another, which also works with the idea of seed being sown -- known as "The Parable of the Good Seed" (Matthew 13:24-30; explication 13:37-43) which makes a quite different piont out of "the same" general situation (which is of course a quite different set of particulars). After that come several other famous "parables of the kingdom."
Here we concentrate, however, on "The Parable of the Sower," and begin a couple of verses earlier, when the situation of the telling is established.
1 The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.
2 And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.
3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow:
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, and some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, somethirtyfold.
9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
13 Therefore speak I to them in parables; because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias [Isaiah 55:10-11], which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
15 For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
18 ¶ Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
19 When any one hearth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in the heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
I have highlighted the text to distinguish three importantly distinct sections:
- the sower = whoever "broadcasts" the word of God -- God himself (in the burning bush that spoke to Moses); the prophets (Moses, for instance, bringing God's word down from Sinai to the Israelites); Jesus himself (as it is most immediately in this particular instance); disciples, missionaries, preachers, believers who undertake to "spread the word."
- the seed = the word of God (His descriptions [as in the Creation and Fall story in Genesis], prescriptions [and proscriptions], promises).
- the sowing = any publication or sending forth of the God's word.
- the various places the seed falls = the various kinds of "hearers" of the word, who, in virtue of their different spiritual states, exhibit different ways of "hearing," each of which carries its characteristic consequence.
- the wayside = those who simply don't understand, and therefore can't believe, the word of God when it is presented to them.
- the fowls = the "wicked one" (presumably the devil), who intervenes to take it away (through forgetfullness?) before it can take any root at all.
- the stony places with shallow earth = the hearts of people without firm conviction, "superficial" believers, within whom the word "cannot take firm root."
- the heat of the sun = persecutions, troubles, inconveniences suffered by those who have taken in the word and have, by their actions or company, come to be identified as dangerous by the unjust, the unbelievers.
- the withering = the weakening of the effect of the word in the person's life, as it ceases to be "nourished," "fueled," by the commitment of the believer, who declines to "stand up for" what he formerly, but only weakly, believed.
- bringing forth no fruit = failure on the part of the person to act as God's word prompts, under the circumstances. (In extreme circumstances, this could be martyrdom; but it might be just carrying on doing as God wants, despite sneers of neighbors.)
- the places among thorns = people subject to temptation by worldly goods (pleasures, riches). (There is almost certainly here an allusion to the "thorns and thistles" brought into being as part of God's curse of the earth in punishment for Original Sin -- Genesis 3:18.)
- the thorns = the riches of the world (probably here not just money and the things it buys, but the totality of attractive things the world offers -- fame, power, glamor, social esteem, a life of abandoned absorption in creatures to the neglect of the Creator).
- choking out the seedling = distracting the person's attention from what should be its chief concern, doing God's will as expressed in his Word. (The phrase "the care of the world" is 17th-century English for "the concern for the world.")
- the good ground = those who are properly receptive to God's word -- those for whom it is suited, "meant."
- fruit = being the kind of person (righteous, just) the Word is intended to form, and doing the kinds of things that are the expression of such a character.
We notice here that there is an intimate connection between Jesus' explanation of why he is speaking in parables and his explanation of the meaning of this particular parable. The multitude to whom he speaks the parable are "the wayside" in the parable! The disciples in the parable are "the good ground." It is interesting, though, that they themselves require explicit instruction, by the author, in exacly what referents to assign each of the elements of the parable. That is, they require a special act of favor (theologically, this is termed "grace") in order to "hear the parable of the sower" (verses 9 and 18).
Keep in mind that not every parable is constructed in order to keep "the out-of-it" in the dark. Many parables are designed not to require the addition of an authoritative (here, authorial) pronouncement of its intended meaning. Instead, sufficient clues are included in the narrative to indicate, to the curious, what things stand for what. Hawthorne's stories are of this sort.
This is not to say that these do not presuppose certain dispositions and experiences on the part of the reader. Hawthorne expects his readers to be familiar with, for example, the basics of Puritan Christian outlook, to be aware of the conventions by which allegory works, and to be open-minded and curious. Persons outside the set of folks defined by these requirements are, of course, "outside the audience for which the story is intended." But this is by accident rather than by purpose: the story was not designed in order to be incomprehensible or misunderstood by such readers (any more than American football, say, is designed in order to be unintelligible to those who've never been introduced to its rules).
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This page last updated 11 April 2000.