4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.Luke 8:4-15
Jesus’ parables are fascinating. His stories have captivated Christian minds and hearts for the past two thousand years. From the early Church Fathers to modern scholarship, the parables of Jesus have never lost their appeal. There are hundreds of books listed by Amazon’s search engine that fit the description of “Parables of Jesus”. The number of books is impressive. Still, the variety of those books on Jesus’ parables is incredible. For example, you just as easily find a children’s book for early readers as you can for scholarly works that dig into the cultural context and greek grammar of Jesus’ parables. The stories are truly fascinating, but are they easy to understand?
Some parables are easier to understand than others. The parable we are looking at in this brief devotional is usually called the parable of the sower. Its meaning is not simple. Otherwise, Jesus’ first audience would not have needed a later explanation. The parable may seem simple enough for us to understand, but that is in large part due to Jesus’ exposition of His story. That is precisely why some parables are more challenging to interpret. Not all of Jesus’ parables have a correlating commentary to give the reader certainty to its meaning. The parables that are recorded without an explanation of the original meaning and intent are far more likely to be misused.
The misuse of parables is an interesting problem because Jesus is the most excellent teacher who ever lived, but His intended meaning seems to be veiled at times. I do not mean to dissuade you from the study of parables. I believe that Jesus’ stories are vitally important and wonderfully enriching. I do, however, mean to impress upon you the importance of humility as you study the parables. We all need God’s Spirit to help us to see the meaning of Jesus’ words. We also need the Holy Spirit to illuminate our minds to recognize how we might apply Christ’s teachings in our personal lives.
Jesus taught, as we might say, for changed lives. His style was both brilliant and straightforward. His meaning was not always clear to His original audience, but their struggle to understand was seemingly part of the teaching method. Jesus ended this parable of the sower with the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus knew full well that His audience would struggle to grasp His meaning. Could Jesus have restated His parable in a way that made His point more clearly? I think He could have but did not intend to do so.
Having ears to hear is a gracious gift from God.
Do all people have “ears to hear?” Everyone in Jesus’ audience certainly had ears, and therefore Jesus must not be speaking about physical ears. “He who has ears to hear” clearly implies that not all people who were present could hear Jesus rightly. Seemingly, Jesus wasn’t assuming all people have ears, but some are unwilling. Instead, it appears Jesus’ assumption that people did not have ears to hear without special grace (Luke 8:10). Each person in attendance heard with their physical ears, but there was a different kind of hearing that Jesus was inviting people to experience.
Jesus seemed to use the word “hear” to refer to belief or faith. If my opinion is valid, then we might restructure Jesus’ sentence as He who can believe let him believe. Does that restatement sound strange? Think about Jesus’ words again, “He who has ears” implies that not all can hear. Therefore when Jesus gives an invitation to hear, it is primarily given for those who can do so. The obvious question is, where can we receive “ears to hear?” Hold that question in your mind while you look at the next sentence in Luke’s narrative. Luke wrote in verses 8-10, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Then, when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know.” Where can we receive “ears to hear?” Where can we receive the ability to believe? We receive from God.
If I must receive this ability to hear/believe from God, how can I know that I have been given this grace? Asking that question is evidence of God’s special grace. When Jesus’ apostles asked Him to explain the meaning of His parable, Jesus told them God had given them the ability to hear/believe. They did hear with ears of faith and were trying to understand the parable. The result of having “ears to hear” is not the ability of perfect interpretation. Having “ears to hear” causes people to dig into the parable because they hear, as it were, God’s voice inside that parable.
Having ears to hear is a gift to be used.
Seeing Jesus’ apostles struggling to understand the parable ought to comfort our hearts. They are like us, needing more of God’s illuminating grace. You see, Jesus’ invitation, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” was meant to draw out faith. If we can hear the voice of God in the context of the parable, then it is our responsibility to mine its truth. We are given God’s grace, and His grace enables us to hear and to do His Word. We should be taking care of the soil of our hearts (Jer 4:3-4). Jesus intends His disciples to hear, ask questions, prepare their hearts to receive more, learn, and do His Word to produce fruit. He said, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Your ability to hear is a gift, so put that grace to use and learn Jesus’ words well.