Matthew groups Jesus’ teaching into five major discourses, and the parables in chapter 13 constitute the third of these collections. Of these parables, few are more well known than the parable of the sower (vv. 1–9, 18–23).
Though this parable is more commonly named after the sower of the seed, the “parable of the soils” is a more fitting title. The role of the sower in the story is important, but the parable’s point is twofold: first, to explain why different soils — different people — respond differently to the Gospel and, second, to invite us to examine ourselves to think about the kind of soil we hope to be.
The parable and its explanation are straightforward enough. All of the first three people portrayed are ultimately hard in heart, but the hardness is especially clear in the person described in verses 4 and 19 since that individual never shows an interest in the Gospel. His heart is calcified to the point where it resists all penetration by the seed, which is devoured by the Evil One and his minions, who were often represented by birds in first-century Jewish literature.
Those who fall away after professing faith are represented by the second and third soils. Without solid rooting in good soil, plants will wither and die under the sun’s heat (vv. 5–6). Similarly, some people appear to be thriving believers until persecution reveals their true colors (vv. 20–21), just like those in the first century who left Jesus when the going got tough (Heb. 3:12). Others, like vegetation choked by weeds, are strangled by the cares of this world and the love of money (Matt. 13:7, 22). This is an especially dreadful fate, for the one ensnared in such things does not usually know his predicament until it is too late, considering himself Christ’s follower even though he serves his riches (Mark 10:17–22).
Yet the fourth soil is notably different. This one understands and bears fruit — he accepts and conforms his life to the Gospel (Matt. 13:8–9, 23). The presence of fruit, not its quantity, is what matters. John Calvin says, “The fertility of that soil which yields a thirty-fold produce is small compared with that which yields a hundred-fold…[but Jesus] classes together all kinds of soil which do not entirely disappoint the labors and expectations of the husbandman.”
Matthew Henry writes: “That which distinguished this good ground from the rest, was, in one word, fruitfulness. He does not say that this good ground has no stones in it, or no thorns; but there were none that prevailed to hinder its fruitfulness.” Stones or thorns may be found in the good soil of a true believer’s heart, but such obstructions do not finally prevent him from bearing fruit. Despite your remaining sin, is your life bearing fruit for Christ?