Jesus is touring each city and village challenging everyone with the good news about God's kingdom.
The twelve are with him (Remember them? Rewind to 6:12-16), as are several women who became his followers after Jesus healed their illnesses and exorcized their demons.
Among them is Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus exorcized—count 'em—seven demons.
There's also Joanna, who's the wife of Chuza, one of Herod's stewards (this is the Herod of 3:1, who is tetrarch of Galilee, not the Herod of 1:5). Why are we telling you all this? Well, the implication is that Jesus is penetrating the upper echelon with his influence. Oh, and there are a lot of women around.
With a lot of people gathered around him, Jesus goes cryptic and tells some coded stories.
A sower scatters seeds that land in various places: on the road, where it is trampled and birds gobble it up; on the rocks, where it grows but dies due to lack of soil; and on thorns, where the thorns choke the poor young shoots to death.
But a portion falls in rich soil, where the plants flourish "a hundredfold," which in today's terms is like earning a hundred dollars for every dollar invested.
Um… what? Why is he talking like this?
Well, the disciples are privileged recipients of God's mysteries, but the rest of the people have access only to cryptic stories that have the potential to block true understanding.
But don't worry, Jesus will decode the story.
The sower represents God's word.
The road is a symbol for people who the Devil gets to; the rocks are a symbol for those who initially accept God's word with joy, but waver as soon as anything tough happens; and the thorns are a symbol for worldly cares, wealth, and life's pleasures, which suffocate God's word.
And how about the fertile soil? Well, that stands for the "honest" or "noble" and "good" heart (7:34) that clamps down on God's word and acts accordingly.
Right when he's finished explaining that one, Jesus rolls out another cryptic story.
Who lights a lamp only to hide it under a jar or bed? Lamps are made for a lamp stand, of course, where they provides light for people who come in.
Translation: there are no secrets. Everything will be made public—even your sins.
Okay, that's it for random stories. Now Jesus's mother and brothers come toward Jesus, but Jesus take the opportunity to redefine his family as "those who hear the word of God and do it" (8:21 NRSV).