Now you may wonder why I have such a problem with a school assembly and Sunday school favourite. Surely it's a delightful story, which lends itself to seed trays and giving each child a little shoot in a pot to take home. And isn't the main message of the parable that we need to listen? Something that all children (and husbands!) need to learn.
Well yes. The command from Jesus at the beginning and end of the parable is about listening. That is certainly that take home action for the hearer. But in emphasising the need to listen to God's word very carefully, Jesus reminds us of the heartache and joy of Christian ministry.
I hate the "Parable of the Sower" because it tells me that word ministry will involve a lot of disappointment.
Of the four response to the word recorded in Mark 4:1-20, three are negative. There's the people who hear the word, and it goes in one ear and out the other. I've been privileged to speak to some pretty large gatherings of folk who aren't Christians and then had to stand by and watch most walk away seemingly unaffected by the message.
Then there's the people who hear the word, think that it's great and appear to start following Jesus. But as soon as things get tough they quickly say it's not for them.
And lastly there's the people who hear the word and respond. They grow in knowledge and love of Christ. But the "deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful." (Mark 4:19). They don't deny that the gospel is true. They turn up to church from time to time. But in essence they are living for other things.
If you care those responses hurt. Because Jesus is the best news in the world. There's nothing more exciting than telling people about him and seeing people begin to follow him. And so there's nothing more miserable than watching people drift away from Christ or deny that they ever believed.
All the little plants in Jesus' story have names. Faces that I can remember. They are people you have shared life with. People you love. Often it means very little to them to walk away from Christ. But it should always bring sorrow to the pastor.
But I also need "The Parable of the Sower". Without it I would have given up years ago. It tells me that faithful word ministry will produce fruitfulness. Because of the last category of person Jesus talks about. "Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown." (Mark 4:20)
That is a return way above the normal yield of Jesus day. One seed sown leading to 30-100 seeds harvested. It's a reminder that people who listen and respond to the gospel wholeheartedly don't just have their lives turned upside down, they are used by God to transform the lives of countless others.
Between Jesus teaching the parable and explaining it to the disciples Jesus tells them that the difference in people's response is not the result of their efforts or the brilliance of their ministry strategy or the skill of their oratory, but rather the sovereign grace of God. It is he who gives people "the secret of the kingdom". He who opens people's ears so that they hear the word and treasure Jesus above all else.
So I'm going to prayerfully keep scattering the seed of the gospel wherever I can. Even though there are days when fruitfulness seems harder to come by.