Prepare to listen. Sit still, take a few deep breaths then pray: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Psalm 86:11)
Read Mark 4:1-20
Again he began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. 2He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ 9And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’
10When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12in order that “they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.”’
13And he said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14The sower sows the word. 15These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’
The parable of the sower is so familiar to many of us, we hardly stop to pause and reflect on it any more. We’ve heard multiple interpretations that encouraged us to make and keep it personal and individual. Of course, personal is good, but individual can be misleading; the parable wasn’t intended for individualistic applications. All of Jesus’ teaching is about the kingdom of God (see Mark 1:15), which is a communal rather than an individual reality. The parable of the sower is a kingdom parable with kingdom rather than merely individual personal implications. Matthew makes this even clearer, stating that the sower sows “the word of the kingdom” (Mt 13:19). Thus, as we reflect on it, we need to keep wondering what it says about God’s Kingdom and how we, therefore, are to live it now. For the sake of time, I’ve focused attention on just one word that is repeated in the parable—listen.
The parable itself begins and ends with a command to listen. A related word, hear, is used four times in Jesus’ explanation, suggesting that listening and hearing are critical to being a citizen of God’s Kingdom. The command to listen has its roots in Israel’s creed that begins: “Hear, O Israel” (Deut 6:4, quoted in Mk 12:29). Most of us today aren’t very good at listening. We live in a culture of constant noise—TV, video games, cell phones, music, social media, etc. We have learned not to listen to most of it. Parents are good at not listening to a child’s endless chatter; wives and husbands frequently complain ‘you haven’t heard a word I said;’ teachers despair of pupils who flunk exams because they failed to listen in class. As a result, our ears have become dull of hearing. We’ll never understand this parable or any of Jesus’ words until we retrain our ears to listen in order to hear, and to hear in the biblical way that involves obedience, that is, taking it to heart and going out and living the word. Without submissive obedience to Jesus’ words, there’s no true listening.
What hinders you from truly listening? What can you do to change this?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Teach me, Lord, to listen—to you and to those with whom I interact today. Help me be disciplined in my desire to truly hear and take to heart what you teach me today. For the sake of your kingdom, Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world practicing listening.