So Jesus picked a place of nature to teach. I think the shore might have made a nice place to gather with the sloping hill.
Where did the crowds come from? Were they from the villages in the region or did they come from a distance? In the next chapter Matthew 14: the people are not close enough to their own homes to get food so they must not from the immediate vicinity, though of course there may have people from near and far.
So the method of teaching in parables is established as both a method and a parable about teaching with parables. Recursive thinking, and for me recursive humor.
The attention getting device of the word "Behold". The parable is about listening and the teacher wants to get the attention of his audience. Again recursive thinking.
He introduces the character in the parable, the sower. His action is sowing. Who is the sower? Is it anyone who preaches or teaches the word of God or is this the special work of the Holy Spirit? My first inclination is to say that this is anyone who is teaching or preaching the Word of God. Let's see if there are any clues any where else in the passage.
The seed here falls on the path. It does not really enter the soil. Is this the case of a hard heart or is it the case that someone simply can not grasp the meaning because they have no context. I think the Scripture is clear in Matthew 13:19 that this is the person does not understand. It is not only that they do not understand but Satan steals the Word of God from this person. Why might a person not understand?
1. He has been taught something else
2. He is not listening at all
3. He might be hard hearted
4. He is stubborn
I would not assume that this means someone is necessarily has one type of sin that make them not understand. A lack of understanding can come from a variety of sources. Poor teaching I would say is the number one reason for someone not understanding. I do beleive that Satan is behind false doctrine. At the same time, I do not want to be seeing everyone who teaches something different than myself, that they are the personal agents of Satan. To do so is to take a tone that will disenfranchise those who have been taught incorrectly. Tim Keller is able to engage the false teaching of the world because he is able to speak to skeptics with a congenial spirit. I want a steadfastness of Paul with the congenial spirit of Tim Keller, not that I'm putting Tim Keller on the same level as Paul. Paul is the example of courage and doctrinal purity, while Tim Keller is a man God is using at this time in this context to be in conversation with skeptics.
The parable describes a situation that may be misunderstood if one does not read the story closely. The soil is not rocky in the sense that it needs to be cleared of stones, rather the soil is sitting on a large rock. It is not that you should pick up the rock and throw it away from the soil to solve the problem. As a kid we had great rock piles that were gathered up by my ancestors who farmed the Ozark hills. They were trying to make it easier to plow and reduce the damage farm equipment and reduce injuries to stock and people by clearing the rocks from the field. In this case the rock is large and soil sits on it. Since it is exceedingly shallow, it heats up easily. This heating of the soil is important to understand. Seeds need two things to germinate. One is moisture, and the second is warmth.
VARIETY OPTIMUM SOIL TEMPERATURE FOR GERMINATION DAYS TO GERMINATE AT OPTIMUM SOIL TEMPERATURE
Bean, lima 85 degrees F 7 to 10 days
Bean, snap 75 to 80 degrees F 7 days
Beet 75 degrees F 7 to 14 days
Broccoli 65 to 75 degrees F 5 to 10 days
Brussels sprout 68 to 75 degrees F 5 to 10 days
Cabbage 68 to 75 degrees F 5 to 10 days
Cantaloupe 80 to 85 degrees F 5 to 10 days
Carrot 75 degrees F 12 to 15 days
Cauliflower 65 to 75 degrees F 5 to 10 days
Celery 70 to 75 degrees F 10 to 14 days
Collard 70 to 75 degrees F 5 to 10 days
Corn 75 to 85 degrees F 7-10 days
Cucumber 70 to 85 degrees F 7 to 10 days
Eggplant 75 to 85 degrees F 10 to 12 days
Endive 70 to 75 degrees F 10 to 14 days
Kale 70 to 75 degrees F 5 to 10 days
Kohlrabi 70 to 75 degrees F 5 to 10 days
Lettuce 65 to 70 degrees F 7 to 10 days
Melon 80 to 85 degrees F 5 to 10 days
Mustard Greens 70 degrees F 5 to 10 days
Okra 80 to 85 degrees F 7 to 14 days
Onion, bulbing 70 to 75 degrees F 10 to 14 days
Onion, bunching 60 to 70 degrees F 10 to 14 days
Parsnip 70 degrees F 14 to 21 days
Pea 65 to 70 degrees F 7 to 14 days
Pepper 78 to 85 degrees F 10 to 14 days
Pumpkin 70 to 75 degrees F 7 to 10 days
Radish 65 to 70 degrees F 5 to 7 days
Rutabaga 65 to 70 degrees F 7 to 15 days
Spinach 70 degrees F 7 to 14 days
Spinach, New Zealand 75 degrees F 10 to 15 days
Squash, Summer 75 to 85 degrees F 7 to 14 days
Squash, Winter 75 to 80 degrees F 7 to 14 days
Swiss Chard 70 to 75 degrees F 7 to 14 days
Tomato 75 to 80 degrees F 7 to 14 days
Turnip 65 to 70 degrees F 7 to 14 days
Watermelon 75 to 85 degrees F 7 to 14 days
So the seed gets moisture with the other soil types in the parable but it heats up more quickly than the other soil because it is shallow. Then the shallow soil also dries out faster, not giving the moisture and coolness for the plant to endure wind and heat.
When the sun rises it brings heat. The heat that causes the seeds to germinate is also the heat that causes the root to wither. So it is in life, the trials of life can cause us to turn to God can also be the same trials that cause us to wither from listening to the Word of God.
The seed falls among the thorns and the thorns also arise and choke it out. These are the cares of this life. Both the rich and the poor think about these.
The yield from putting seeds in the ground is not the same as investing in the stock market. Here the yield and done in multiplication and not percentages. However, another difference is that it is not only the seed that is invested; sweat, tools, water, fertilizer and tools are also necessary. The modern strategies of investment are different from the agricultural ones so the methods, results and use of the pay-off are different.
Here is an ending to the parable. Does it explain the parable or is this ending just saying that one should pay attention to the parable. While either seems possible, which is it? Since the parable involves the Word of God being listened to, and the explanation Jesus gives in the next section describe problems with hearing, we should assume that this is an explanation of the parable and not just a way to rap up saying that we ought to listen.
So the disciples are asking why he talks in parables. It seems that there is a reason for them to wonder about this. Perhaps parables were not the norm. However, the use of the parable is common in the Old Testament.
Why ask this question? Is it because they did not understand the parable itself? Is it because they observed that the audience did not understand what he was talking about?
I'm not sure why they ask the question.
Clark is saying that it is a matter of time, the parables are given and will be understood once they have been put into Scripture. This is a process that will take everyone down the path to understanding the parable. However, the quotation of Isaiah 6 talking about the hard hearted people who can not understand the message does not seem to say the same thing. Isaiah's commission to preach had with it the hardheartedness of the people as an assumption of circumstances that will accompany his ministry. That is not to say that all preachers will have this same issue at all times. I think Jesus is saying that just as Isaiah has problems with the people not understanding his message, he also is not heard completely.
Another commentator says that the reason Jesus is speaking in parables is because some are elect and some are not. The elect will understand and the non-elect will not understand. If this is what Jesus is speaking about I'm not sure of the point here.
Is Jesus seeking to obfuscate or speak clearly? Perhaps something in between? I think initially that this is something in between. He uses a parable because the people can not hear the message clearly. They need to know in the parable that there are things the block their hearing of the message. Jesus is trying to explain that the things that keep them from hearing need to be addressed, a lack of understanding, unwillingness to suffer for the truth, or a distraction by cares of life and money. These things need to be addressed. Jesus I do not believe is attempting to mislead or obfuscate the truth. There is a degree of obfuscation in a parable because one is not describing the reality of the situation but something that is a kin to the reality. Instead of speaking of exactly what is being addressed, he talks about a common experience that everyone knows. There are different results of the seed producing what it is designed to produce based on the soils in which it is planted. Everyone would have known this. He is linking a common experience to what people do not know. What people do not know is the receptivity of their heart. Am I weedy, am I shallow, am I unable to understand?