“Parables are used not to explain things to people’s satisfaction but to call attention to the unsatisfactoriness of all their previous explanations and understandings”
― Robert Farrar Capon
When Jesus was preaching to the masses, he often spoke in parables. These are memorable stories like the fables of Aesop, and are allegorical in nature. Occasionally, he expounds the meaning of one to his disciples, as in this case:
A sower went forth to plant his seed. When he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where there was not much earth, and they sprung up quickly, because they had no depth of earth, but when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they had no roots, they withered away. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns choked them. But others fell onto good ground, and brought forth fruit, yielding a hundred times the crop that had produced them.
When his disciples asked Jesus why he taught the people in this manner, he answered:
Because seeing, they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
What Jesus meant by this is that the people were blind to what he showed them directly, and deaf to his preaching. By giving them a parable and forcing them to work its meaning out for themselves, he hoped to get around the rationalizations that allowed them to deny his message. I can speak to the power of this technique. The most profound spiritual experience of my life came about in this way. Self revelation, epiphany, satori; call it what you will, it can be life changing.
Here is the explanation of the parable that Jesus gave to his disciples (paraphrased):
When any one hears the word of the kingdom but does not understand it, then wickedness drives away the seed that was sown in his heart. This is the seed that fell by the way side. The seed that fell onto stony places is one who hears the word and receives it joyfully, but has no integrity. His faith endures for a while, but when tribulation or persecution arises because of his belief, he is offended and rejects it. The seed that falls among the thorns is one that hears the word, but allows the desires of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, to choke the word, and becomes unfaithful. But the seed that fell onto good ground is the one that hears the word, understands it, and bears fruit by passing it on to a hundred more.