“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”
Wynton Marsalis, the Pulitzer prize winning jazz trumpeter, once said of his role as a teacher at Juilliard, “If you want to learn, I can’t stop you. If you don’t want to learn, I can’t teach you.” This hits on the uncomfortable and mysterious Biblical truth of spiritual blindness. As much as we might like to believe otherwise, Scripture teaches there are some who simply cannot or will not see the truth for what it is.
Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Mt. 13:13) Jesus wasn’t speaking in parables to hide the truth from certain people. He spoke in parables “because” the truth wasn’t getting through to them in the first place. In fact, parabolic teaching is an effective way to increase learning but, fittingly, only to those who want to learn. The parables were meant to sift Jesus' audience into those who were fit or unfit for the kingdom.
Quintilian, a great Roman teacher of oratory said of some of his scholars, “They would no doubt be excellent students if they were not already convinced of their own knowledge… Blessed is the man who has the humility to know his own ignorance, his own weakness, and his own need.” Behind all fruitful learning is both the desire to learn and an attitude of humility (Mt. 5:3, 6). Being a student (or a “disciple”) requires acknowledging there are things we don’t know. A student is not greater than his master. This is hard because most of us see ourselves as enlightened and perceptive people. But we may be clueless to the spiritual reality of the condition of our soul or the nature of God’s kingdom or the identity of Christ.
The minds of some may already be made up. Even when such people read the Scriptures, they see what they want to see in them and not what is there. This blindness is not due to any lack of intelligence or ability to reason. It is a result of a heart that has “grown dull” (Mt. 13:15). There forms a kind of spiritual callous over the heart that keeps the truth from penetrating (Eph. 4:18-19).
God has given us charge over our heart (Prov. 4:23; Mt. 6:21; 12:35). Therefore, if we allow our heart to “grow dull” to God’s word we have no one to blame for this condition but ourselves. Jesus told a parable explaining the different attitudes disciples would encounter when sharing the gospel. (Mt. 13:18-23)
It is important to note that he called it “the parable of the sower” and not “the parable of the soils”. In other words, the parable is primarily meant to prepare disciples to expect to encounter a wide range of attitudes to the announcement of the kingdom. It's as if Jesus is saying when the gospel is rejected it may not always be tied to one’s delivery. It may simply be a reflection of the listener's heart.
With that being said, we’re all listeners too and need to examine the condition of the soil of our own hearts. When we listen to this parable, we are going to find ourselves in one of four categories. If you don't like where you fit into the parable, the mere fact that you can view yourself critically is a good sign.
But perhaps you know of someone who lacks spiritual perception and you have been praying for them to see and embrace the truth. Don’t lose hope for that person. The fact is, we don’t know if they are ‘locked in’ to that condition. The fallow ground of the human heart can be made ready to receive the good seed of God's word (Hos. 10:12). There does come a point when God will allow a person to reject his love (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; 2 Cor. 4:3-4; 2 Thess. 2:11-12) but let’s not forget that he can also give sight to the blind (Lk. 4:18-19).
In the meantime, let us love our neighbor, speak the truth in love, and pray for the gospel to take root. Either way, we must sow the seed and leave the burden of results to God (1 Cor. 3:6).