Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? (Mark 4:13)
That’s Jesus, talking to his disciples. Actually, rebuking his disciples is more like it. It is the first time Jesus speaks to them harshly in the gospel of Mark. It won’t be the last.
The rebuke comes hot on the heels of the parable of the sower. The disciples confess they don’t understand it. Jesus’ rebuke is intended to emphasize how serious a predicament is their ignorance. He speaks in parables to hide the message from “outsiders,” people who really have no interest. If his disciples don’t get the message . . . well . . . their “inside track” (Jesus has called them to be “with” him after all) is in danger.
The point of the parable of the sower is plain (it must be because Jesus says if you can’t get that parable, you can’t get any of them). But to be sure, Jesus explains it. The seed being sown is the message of God. The point is: “What kind of reception will it receive?” Hearers are the soil. Some don’t listen at all (Jesus blames Satan). Others listen only superficially. Still others listen, but their attraction to the siren song of the world drowns out any benefit. Finally, some listen, take the message to heart, and fruit is produced. They become God plants in the world.
The point of the parable is not that we should produce fruit. That’s the job of the seed. Our task is to provide a fertile place for the seed to grow. If godliness is not being produced in our lives, it’s not a seed problem. It’s a soil problem. It’s an us problem. Perhaps a bit of weeding is in order.