Jesus’ ‘Parable of the Sower’ is Particularly Relevant in this Age of Fake News
Whether you are a believer or an agnostic, the parables of Jesus in the New Testament contain food for thought. They especially contain insight and direction for those trying to lead lives of conscience and compassion in societies that, not unlike the Roman empire of Jesus’ day, encourage neither.
A parable, incidentally, is a short story that teaches a lesson. Mark, the author of the third Gospel, points out the centrality of parables in Jesus’ teachings — ‘Without a parable, Jesus did not speak to the people.’ (Mark 4:34) The carpenter-turned-teacher from Nazareth was a master storyteller who understood the power of conveying profound truths through simple, earthy stories.
The ‘Parable of the Sower’ is a case in point:
‘A sower (farmer) went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the road, and the birds came and devoured it.
Other seed fell on rocky earth, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up, but since it had no depth of soil or roots, when the sun rose, it withered away.
Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.
But other seed fell into good soil and grew, yielding grain thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.’
(Mark Chapter 4, verses 3–9)
Jesus goes on to explain that the four kinds of ground that the farmer sowed seeds in are symbolic of four kinds of people and their reactions to the truth that is shared with them.
“There are those who are like the road on which the seed fell. Like the birds, Satan immediately comes and takes away the truth that is presented in them.
Then there are those who are like the rocky earth: the ones who, when they hear the truth, receive it with joy, but because they don’t have much depth, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the truth, immediately they fall away.
Then there are those who hear the truth, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in like thorns and choke the truth, and it proves unfruitful.
But there are also those who, like fertile ground, when they hear the truth with a good and honest heart, accept it and the truth bears a great harvest in their lives.”
(Mark Chapter 4, verses 10–20)
The parable is particularly relevant in the context of the propaganda-saturated times we now live in. The four types of ground mentioned in it correspond, interestingly, to the kinds of responses people have to the often-inconvenient truths told by activists, journalists, comedians, academics, and authors.
The Road is an apt metaphor for those who are least receptive to any truths that run contrary to power’s prevailing narrative. The surface of a road is hard and stony, not unlike the hearts of those who have no compunctions in calling those who question power ‘traitors’, ‘urban naxals’ or worse. These are also those don’t think twice before attacking anyone who is part of a religious, political, or social minority.
(Incidentally, the word ‘Satan’ in Hebrew means ‘accuser’ . ‘When these hear the truth, Satan immediately comes and takes away the truth that is sown in them.’ — An apt description of the awful effect hateful news channels, newspapers and websites, the ‘accusers’ of our day, have on the minds of those who imbibe their content.)
The Rocky Earth: In a recent letter from prison, activist Dr. Umar Khalid wrote, “At times I feel lonely. Lots of people far more privileged than me who were together in this fight against fascism, in the movement against CAA-NRC/NPR, today choose to remain silent when I am singled out … It makes you feel unwanted. It makes you feel a stranger in your own land.”
Perhaps these are sadly those “who, when they heard the truth, received it with joy, but because they didn’t have much depth, when tribulation or persecution arose on account of the truth, immediately fell away.” — Those who might even have attended a protest or two, posted about it on social media a bit, but who, when things got tough, left the activists and journalists to fight their battles, and quietly went back to living their lives.
The Thorns: Those for whom the ‘cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things have entered in’ are not necessarily just those who are too busy increasing their abundance to bother too about democracy and human rights. The thorns can also be symbolic of the ever-present din of everyday existence, the endless flow of (mis)information on our smart phones, the cacophony of consumerism, and the 1001 things that distract us from paying the kind of attention and perseverance it takes to keep pursuing facts and understanding truth.
The Good Ground: So what is it that makes for ‘fertile ground’? Jesus gives a clue when he talks about those who ”when they hear the truth with a good and honest heart, accept it and bear a great harvest.” People with ‘good and honest hearts’ who can honestly see what is going on around them and who are concerned enough to respond to untruth, inequality and injustice in whichever way they can, are those who keep truth and hope alive. It is their individual and collective efforts day in and day out that eventually turn things around and bring victory.
May their tribe increase.