Do you have ears to hear? (Mark 4)

Mark 4:1–20

[1] Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. [2] And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: [3] “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. [4] And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. [5] Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. [6] And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. [7] Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. [8] And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” [9] And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

[10] And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. [11] And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, [12] so that

“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”

[13] And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? [14] The sower sows the word. [15] And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. [16] And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. [17] And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. [18] And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, [19] but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. [20] But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 


“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This is the message that we see in Mark 4 and the parable of the Sower. In Jesus, we have the Word Incarnate, God made flesh, the Word of the Father spoken to mankind, and he is almost pleading with his audience, whom he knit together in the womb, to listen and hear what he has to say. 

What a tragedy to be face to face with the Author of Life and to have his words rebound off your heart. It makes us realize that simply hearing what is true is not enough. The Scribes and Pharisees had been listening to truth for most of their lives, but even what they had would be taken away (Mark 4:25). After all, truth is pointless if it is not received. This is why Jesus spends time analyzing the varying soils of a person’s heart.

In this parable Jesus is the Sower of the seed (as are any of his followers who proclaim his truth), and the gospel is the seed. As the sower goes out, his seed falls on four types of soil, and only one type leads to fruit.

The first soil is compared to that of a path. A path, nestled between or in the midst of a farmer’s field, is compacted from foot traffic. The soil is hard, not necessarily because it is a different quality than the soil around it, but because it is too frequently walked upon. One could easily say that this is “busy soil” - soil that is too readily trod to receive anything. For our part in it, we are all too familiar with busyness in our world. There are times when truth comes at us like a surgeon, but if we are too busy, it will appear to be like any other white noise of a busy street.

The second soil is that which springs up quickly, like grass that plants itself on your patio in between bricks. The grass will grow quickly (quicker than your attempts to sow grass seed on your lawn!), but once the sun comes up the grass will wither and die. Trials, in the right soil, result in growth, but in the wrong soil reveal the root to be immature and weak. Many people in this life have an emotional experience with Christ without surrendering to him. Then, when difficulties come their way, they throw Christ off as if he were a cloak, convinced it was all a sham. The only thing that was a sham was their faith - a faith without surrender, without depth.

The third soil is that among thorns and weeds, which Jesus says are the cares of life, or literally the “distractions of the age” as well as the deceitfulness of wealth. This is, perhaps, the most deceptive of all soils. As the weeds hide in the soil until the plants start to grow, so these distractions and worries seek to choke us out and destroy us unaware. We are distracted by so many things from the news to soccer games with the kids. None of these things are, in and of themselves, bad or wrong, but they can become distractions and worries. As someone famously said regarding wealth, “We buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like with money we don’t have.” Our hearts, settling for the affections of lovers less alluring than Jesus, stumble into waste and fruitlessness

The fourth soil, however, bears fruit. It is soil that is receptive to hearing truth and receiving truth. It wants to grow, wants to be watered, and wants to be fostered. It will first bear fruit of character and then bear fruit of good work in accordance with the Word of God because this is the way the kingdom grows. It stars like a seed, but grows into a tall tree.

The point of this parable is not to determine, necessarily, who is or is not born again (though we could make some wagers for sure). The point is this - he who has ears to hear, let him hear.