In the Parable of the Sower(Matthew 13:1-23) Jesus identifies four classifications of listeners:
- someone who hears the Word but does not understand it
- someone who hears the Word and gets superficial joy from it, but then lets its affect fade
- someone who hears the Word yet is too focused on worldly pursuits to be affected by it
- someone who hears the Word, understands it and uses it for good
Let's take these one at a time. The first person does not understand the Word. Why? Well, there are several reasons. Right before Jesus explains the parable, He tells the disciples that He speaks in parables, so that those with dull hearts or those who think they know it all, will not be able to understand what He is talking about.
Jesus doesn't want to be easily understood, and this is true of many great sages as well. They speak in riddles and parables not just to make the lessons more memorable, but to encourage devotees to contemplate the layers of wisdom. Devotees must learn over time; wisdom is a slow-growing plant. So if a person is ignorant and has not taken the time to study and learn, they will not understand. Likewise, if a person is arrogant, and thinks that he/she already knows it all, they will not understand. For an excellent example of the layers of wisdom in a parable, read Tim Keller's book, Prodigal God.
The second person can be found today in churches all across America. We are a nation of consumers. And in many churches, especially popular mega-churches, we have also become consumers of Christianity. We love the music and the feel-good messages. We go to church every Sunday without fail, and we love, love, love Jesus. It's one big fan club. And while there's nothing wrong with feeling good, if our faith formation doesn't go deeper, it will not be able to sustain us in hard times. And it will not give us the energy and inspiration to be salt and light for the world.
The third person is everywhere you look as well. They may go to church on a regular basis and be upstanding citizens. But when they hear the Word, they are not moved by it. That is, they will not allow the Word to alter their path in life. To them, worldly pursuits are far more important than a spiritual journey. They are able to rationalize their success, their wealth and their hedonism, because they believe in God, in Jesus and have “accepted” Him as their Savior. But they are not followers of Jesus. They follow their own paths.
This why Jesus spoke so often about the pursuit of material wealth being inconsistent with following Him. He is pretty clear about this being a “one or the other” choice. But many of us in this modern, materialistic society just can't accept that. It is so difficult to go against the grain of popular culture. Material success is expected of us. Some pastors have even twisted Scripture to promote materialism; this is done in practically every religion in the world, by the way. And while there's nothing wrong with working hard and succeeding, it is not okay to do so if it excludes true spiritual growth.
Finally, the person who understands the Word when he/she hears it, is someone who is prepared to hear it. The soil is rich and fertile. They have taken the time to explore the teachings of Jesus. When they hear the Word, it nourishes them and causes them the grow and bear fruit. This bearing of fruit doesn't just benefit them, it multiplies and benefits others.
So the point Jesus is trying to make here and in a number of other instances in the Gospels, is this:
First, do not be arrogant. Do not think you know it all. Be humble and grateful.
Second, do not be ignorant. Read Scripture. Contemplate it and discuss it. Do not get mired in it, but allow it to provide greater perspective.
Third, do not let your spiritual experiences become nothing more than therapy. Do not worship your place of worship. Do not be a fan. Be a follower.
Fourth, make an honest assessment of your life. How do you spend your money? How do you spend your time? How often do you say, “If only...”? Who are you trying to glorify, yourself or God? Read Tim Keller's book, Counterfeit Gods, to get a clear understanding of this.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus points out a core problem of Mankind: we are not in the proper mental and spiritual state to receive His message. He talks about blindness and deafness and ignorance. And He usually points out this deficiency not in the unwashed masses, but in the Pharisees, who are the “churchy people” of that time. So if you don't think the Parable of the Sower applies to you, it probably does. And you may want to do a comprehensive soil analysis.