Simply put, a parable is a story with a double meaning: the obvious and the hidden. Obviously put, the parable of the sower refers to an activity that was familiar to every Galilean peasant. But the hidden meaning refers to the receptivity of the soul to God’s inspiration.
Matthew’s Gospel implies that the crowds who listened to Jesus were ‘hard of heart’, that is, distracted, presumptuous and unwilling to understand his words when it conflicted with their own self-interest. And the Gospel adds that the disciples were only a little better. That is why they needed to have the parables explained to them.
All Jesus’s talk of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ and the signs he wrought to indicate its presence were usually met with misunderstanding and hostility. Jesus asks people for faith, for trust in him. But there’s a lack of receptivity among his hearers.
If there is at least initial receptivity, Jesus says, God’s grace will increase it. He who has a little will be given more, till he has enough and more to spare. But where there is no openness to God’s word because of prejudice and self-interest, even that little grace will diminish. The man who has no interest will forfeit even what he has.
The parable tells the story plainly, but the scribes, Pharisees and the crowds think they have understood it all. They’re dismissive of its content but they have not really grasped the hidden message of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ and how it takes root and grows in the hearts of the believer.
But the simple disciples, even though their faith is weak and stunted, are receptive. This is why Jesus blesses them with these words: “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and saints, I tell you, longed to see what you see and never saw it; to hear what you hear and never heard it.”