Today’s Gospel marks the beginning of the third long discourse given by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Over the next few weeks, the Gospel readings will consist of the entire 13th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, a lengthy teaching discourse.
Throughout this discourse, Jesus will offer several parables to illustrate for his listeners what he means by the kingdom of heaven. He begins with the parable of the sower, which appears rather straightforward—of course seeds grow best in good soil. Seeds that miss the soil, are sown on rocky ground, or are sown among other plants will not grow. The surprise in the parable is the enormous yield of the seed that is sown on good soil.
Jesus then explains his use of parables. Jesus seems to suggest that he uses parables to teach because the meanings of parables are not self-evident. The hearer must engage in some degree of reflection in order to comprehend the message of a parable. In this way, the medium—the parable—models the point of the parable of the sower. Those who are willing to engage themselves in the effort to understand will be rewarded by the discovery of the message and will bear fruit.
To bring home the point, Jesus interprets the parable of the sower to his disciples. The different types of soil in which the seeds are sown are metaphors for the disposition with which each individual hears the teaching about the kingdom of heaven. Some will be easily swayed away from the kingdom of heaven. Some will receive it for a time but will lose it when faced with difficulties. Some will hear the word but will then permit other cares to choke it out. Yet some will receive it well, and the seed will produce abundant fruit.