Let's face it. The parable of the sower in 4:3-9 and its interpretation by Jesus in 4:13-20 don't really have the same cultural currency that some of Mark's other images possess for us today. But you know what? Sometimes what we see in pop culture isn't an accurate reflection of what's important in the original source. Take that, people who think the ending of Lost was terrible. You're missing the point.
In The Parable of the Sower, a farmer scatters his seeds in several types of soil. The road, rocks, and thorns are of course inhospitable to productive farming, and the seeds that land there…well, they die. But some of the seeds land in good soil—there, plants grow that produce one-hundred times as much. In today's economy that's like investing a buck and getting one-hundred back. Not bad.
So what does it all mean? Don't worry, Jesus dishes for the disciples who—like us—don't get it (4:13; he does the same for his dense followers in 7:14-23). It turns out that the different types of soil represent various ways people respond to Jesus and his teaching. Let's take a look.
• Soil Type 1: You hear Jesus, but Satan plucks it right out of your ears, like a bird who eats seeds sown on a road.
• Soil Type 2: You hear Jesus and respond with initial enthusiasm, but your desire to follow fades when the going gets rough. Reminds us of plants that grow in rocks—they don't have roots, so they die under the blaring sun.
• Soil Type 3: You hear Jesus, but are simply too concerned with your resume, making money, and your overall sex appeal to care. These things choke you, like thorns that smother little plants.
• Soil Type 4: You hear Jesus and…flourish. Ta-da!
Pretty much everyone Jesus meets as the story unfolds fits into one of these categories. The parable provides a kind of character map, which we readers can use to judge the people we meet throughout the narrative. And there are a few surprising results.
• Soil Type 1: Pharisees, scribes, and other Jewish leaders, who pretty much never stand a chance (with exception of Jairus in 5:22 and the scribe in 12:28).
• Soil Type 2: The twelve disciples, which is somewhat of a shocker. Maybe Simon's nickname Peter (which means "Rock" in Greek) is not entirely a good thing (3:16), since rocky soil causes trouble (4:5, 16-17).
• Soil Type 3: Herod and his court (6:17-29) and the rich guy (10:17-22).
• Soil Type 4: Everyone whom Jesus heals or whose faith he commends.
Pretty cool. Want more? See what the experts have to say, and try your hand at interpreting Mark with the pros.