Jesus is well known for teaching in parables that can often be confusing. The first parable that Jesus uses in the Gospel of Mark is one that gives us insight to why parables were used for teaching. When the apostles asked Jesus why he teaches in parables he responds with a quote from Isaiah expressing the purpose of parables is to open the eyes of those within the fold while those outside the fold will be able to see but unable to perceive. In one sense the parables are meant to help differentiate between followers of Jesus and those who see but are unable to perceive. Jesus is mimicking what God was saying for Isaiah's ministry revealing that the gospel will stir faith in some, but many will be hardened to the message causing them to turn away.
The Disturbance of the Parable
Jesus included teachings in his parables that were often shocking to his audience because they went against the normal conventions of the day. Jesus purposefully used shocking language as a way to elicit a response from his listeners. Jesus taught his audience in a way that forces people to stick around to gain understanding or to write him off.
Jesus understood a crucial element of teaching a crowd which is: if you do not force your pupils to think deeply about what you are conveying they will not learn it. In our modern day we take for granted the depth of knowledge that exists at our fingertips. Too often people today do not remember what they have been taught because they have access to answers on the internet which means there is little reason to commit what one is learning to memory. By using parables mixed with shocking language Jesus is forcing his audience to think deeply about what it means to follow him and the nature of the Kingdom. Jesus knew that gaining knowledge was a slow, cumbersome, and tedious work that builds upon itself in order to grow in sustainable understanding.
“The parables of Jesus are dynamic stories that should draw us in to reflect...Jesus arouses the spiritual imagination of his hearers that they might understand the nature of the Kingdom.”
The Details of the Parable
Jesus spends the first parable in Mark discussing the details of the heart’s soil. When seeds of the gospel are planted in our hearts there are many things that are actively seeking to obstruct it before roots are set in deep enough to stick. As a church, we are called to defend one another, to preach the gospel, and help support each other in the removal of these obstructions.
The Four types of Soil
Hard soil-the seed of the gospel is vulnerable capable of being devoured by Satan
Rocky ground-thwarts root growth making it impossible to stand up to times of tribulation and persecution
Thorny ground-portrays the choking of the word through false teachings within the world or the deceitful security found in wealth
Good Soil-This soil allows for roots to grow deep. These seeds represent the ones who hear the word and yield an unimaginable amount of fruit thanks to the good soil they grow in.
“Jesus says here that it is not about our technique or trying to change ourselves or the ground. He stops and says ‘it’s God’s providence that is on display here.”
The Depth of the Parable
Everything that we do should be geared towards planting the gospel. Our job is to plant the seeds not to determine the outcome. Even when it looks like nothing is happening it is crucial that we keep the goal of planting seeds in mind because the depth is the most important thing. We may not see the roots that are growing within the people around us, but those roots must take hold deeply first before we begin to see the growth on the surface. Too often we become obsessed with trying to take away the weeds, thorns, and rocks in people's lives, but we are not the gardner. The growth that occurs in people's lives is solely from the miraculous work of God because only He can produce growth.
“The seed of the gospel is freely and lovingly scattered to any and everyone. It is the soil that matters. God alone is the one who prepares the soil to receive the seed.”