4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.’
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
Today's passage presents some challenges to the modern day reader. There appears to be a contradiction when Jesus says, "whoever has ears let them hear", and "the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables so though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand." Then, he gives the unfair advantage to the disciples by explaining the parable in a manner they could see and understand.
If Jesus wants people to come to a knowledge of God (1 Timothy 2:4), why does he speak in parables so they may not see and understand? Are the disciples more important to God and Jesus than the crowds? Does God pick and choose arbitrarily who will come to faith? If only God can open the eyes for someone to believe, then what role do we have in the process? Does he even need us?
These are tough questions so let me attempt to shed some light on the discussion. First we know God's desire is for all men to be saved. God sent Jesus because he so loved the "world" not just the disciples. (John 3:16) We know that prior to sending the Holy Spirit, the disciples were not fully open to who Jesus was and why they needed him for salvation. Even with the explanation of the parable today, they were still slow to understand.
So what gives? First of all, we need to understand the nature of parables. A parable is an earthly story with a spiritual meaning. Often Jesus said we learn the secrets of how God's kingdom works through parables. In other instances he does not give the disciples the interpretation, and let's them struggle with its meaning. The purpose of parables is to provoke the listener to seek and wrestle with it's meaning. It is in the seeking God recognizes the heart of a disciple to seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)
Before Jesus left, he promised the disciples the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would lead and guide them into all truth. If we resist the Spirit, in the flesh we cannot understand the things of God. So what can we do? We can read the bible and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us to do what it says. And as we see, understand, and do the things God has revealed to us, we experience life in the Kingdom. When you came to believe in Jesus, you were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. And this is one of the great gifts that enables us to live the life we've always wanted.