In the passage above Jesus identifies four distinct types of persons an audience consist of when a message is preached. A message need not be relegated to only a sermon. A message can take many forms. It could be by way of a lesson taught in class, lyrics from a song, story depicted by a movie, a theme explored in a book. The presenter of the message, whether it be a professor, a singer, an actor, or an author, hopes for their message to drop and take root in the hearts of their audience. They hope for their audience to leave the classroom, to let the lyrics echo long after the song fades, to leave the theatre, to put the book down with a renewed awareness and understanding of life that motivates and directs a desired action. The author therefore take many great pains in constructing a message that is tailored for the particular audience he is attempting to address. The same message though relevant to a wide range of people ought not to be communicated in the same manner to all. A message of courage must be taught differently to the soldier as it would be to the young boy attempting for the first time to ride his bicycle.
I have not all the time and do not wish to bore my audience with a lengthy study of each of the four distinct groups Jesus points out in the passage. For our present purposes, it would serve just as well to lump the first three types into one category, and to set the last apart in its own class. In brief, Jesus wants us to understand that there are two people in the end: those whose heart are unable to take possession of the fruit-bearing power of a powerful message and those who have so cultivated the acreage of their hearts in order that it can be fertile ground for the seed of a message. When we hear a presentation, that is to say any medium by which a message is communicated to us, we do not just listen to the message in a vacuum. There are prejudices and biases, relevant experiences and prior knowledge that we bring to bear in our interpretation of the message. Our prior knowledge of the story of David and Goliath, serves us well when the preacher’s sermon is entitled “Overcoming Your Giants”. A person who has never read or heard the story, though may hear the same sermon, will find it difficult to understand the parallels the preacher draws out between the story and how we can overcome our fears in our lives. To illustrate it another way, the benefit of a K-12 educational training serves us well when we take any course in university. A person who did not receive the same benefit though logically may be able to sit in the same classroom, read the same book, be taught by the same professor, is lacking of the necessary foundation that enables him to understand the complexity of a university-level subject.
This is why Jesus uses the fitting analogy of a farmer sowing seeds. The problem with the first three groups is that the foundation is not cultivated enough to be built on. The ground is not fertile enough to receive seed. There is still more fundamental work that needs to be done. The last group has avoided that problem by doing much former work to establish a strong foundation or to cultivate a fertile ground. As the Buddhist proverbs goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. It therefore shouldn’t surprise Christians who go evangelizing and are unable to win souls. Some people are just not ready for the message. As Christians we ought to practice patience in getting a person to understand the message of Christianity. We must get “down and dirty in the mud” so to speak, and help them to establish a better foundation. We must teach our unbelieving neighbors the fundamentals. We must talk to them not exclusively about the complex subject of “salvation” but must entertain them with simple stories like Noah’s Ark or the Adam & Eve. For in the end all these stories are fundamental in really understanding the message of the cross. All these messages have running through them the theme of salvation, and culminate in the grand story of the cross.