This passage contains the Parable of the Sower, and in many translations, it has this as a heading, added by the translators. Yet, while the parable is in this passage, the passage is not entirely about the parable. You will no doubt recall that we are right in the middle of a section of Matthew’s Gospel that has the growing rejection of the Jews as its theme; consequently, if we view the passage outside of this theme, we will be taking the passage out of its context, and that is never a good idea.
That is how it is usually taught, however.
The scene opens shortly after Jesus had Pharisees for lunch, as we saw last time; He and the disciples went out to the Sea of Galilee, and the crowds were so big, he addressed them from a boat out on the water. Why shouldn’t the crowds be huge? In the last scene, He had healed everybody who needed healing… on the Sabbath, no less. I’m sure the news spread quickly and since everyone had the day off from work, they came out for the show. Maybe if they were lucky, a Pharisee or two might be crazy enough to challenge Him again!
In verses 3-9, He told the crowd the Parable of the Sower. Beginning at verse 10, we have His aside with the disciples; remember, they are in a boat, and the crowd is ashore… They asked Him why He was speaking to the people in parables. Before we look at the answer He gave, a parable is a metaphorical story that uses common frames of reference to deliver an inconvenient or uncomfortable truth in a non-threatening way, and has been used by the wise to communicate with and instruct others for about as long as people have been writing things down; they are used pretty much universally, and we still use them today, although in our time we usually call them “illustrations”.
In our passage, Jesus answers this way:
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. (13:11-12)
I hope that the first thing you recognized in reading these two verses is that He hasn’t answered their question yet; this is a set up for the answer that will become apparent as He goes along. In short, what He is telling them so far is that they have been chosen as His disciples to have everything reveled to them, but the crowd hasn’t been. Consequently, He speaks to them in a way that requires a certain level of discernment before a person comprehends. He continues:
This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand. (13:13)
Just looking at this, you might expect that Jesus is quoting an Old Testament passage here, but He is not quoting anyone (yet). However, this is the answer to their question; He is speaking to the people in parables because they are not ready to deal with Truth, for they are in open rebellion against God. Why do I say this? Simple Jesus is not the kind of Messiah they are looking for, for they want a Messiah to deal with their political problems (i.e. the Roman occupation) not their spiritual problem of sin. Since God’s plan isn’t what they want, they rebel.
If you are in the habit of sharing your faith, you will recognize this as something quite common in our time, for it is fairly common to find a person who is quite open to the Gospel, as long as Jesus is the kind of Savior who will solve the person’s earthly problems, say financial or career problems, or their relational problems, or their problems with substance abuse or other addictive issues. Yet when their sin is mentioned, they are no longer interested, for they don’t see that as an issue, because they are “a good person”.
Jesus continues quoting from Isaiah 6:
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’ (13:14-15)
At the beginning of this passage, I reminded you of the overall theme in which this falls, that of Israel’s growing rejection of Jesus; do you see it now? It is nothing new in Israel’s history, and Matthew has once again tied the story of Jesus into Israel’s history, even though in this particular case, it is on the negative side of history. The people, by and large, want what they want, when they want it, and if God doesn’t deliver, they turn their backs on Him.
Jesus taught in parables, and those who were seeking relationship with God could very easily understand His teaching, and those who didn’t particularly care what God was doing if it wasn’t what they wanted would have no clue.
If you are wondering about the actual parable, you can read it in verses 3-9, and if you are curious about its meaning, Jesus explains that in verses 16 ff.