“A farmer went out to sow his seed ...” (Matthew 13:3-9)

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)

What does the parable of the farmer and the seed mean?

Jesus himself explains it to his disciples several verses later. Here is his explanation:
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. What was sown on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. What was sown among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But what was sown on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23)
Thus we can know from Jesus' own explanation what it means. But let's investigate these points a little further:

Who is the 'farmer' - or the 'sower'?

Since Jesus is comparing planting seeds to hearing "the message about the kingdom," we can understand that the farmer or sower is the Supreme Being and His representative, and "the kingdom" is the spiritual realm - that realm and consciousness where the Supreme Being is loved and worshiped.

Why not just Jesus? Isn't Jesus speaking of himself as the farmer or sower?

Yes and no. Just consider this statement by Jesus:
“My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me." (John 7:16)
This clearly indicates that Jesus' teachings are coming from the Supreme Being. Jesus may be doing the preaching as God's loving servant, but what he is preaching is coming from God. Jesus is representing God.

Thus, the farmer or sower is ultimately the Supreme Being - in this case working through Jesus.

What is 'the message of the kingdom'?

The central message of Jesus' teachings is confirmed here:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)
In other words, the "kingdom" is not a physical location. It is a particular consciousness.

Who is the 'evil one'?

Who is the "evil one" - who "comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart"?

This is a metaphor, describing the illusory energy of the physical world. Some may refer to this as satan or the devil. But it is an energy - illusion: that we are these physical bodies, and that this world is our permanent home and these things around us that we see are all permanent.

Furthermore, it is the illusion that the forms and things of the physical world will fulfill us. Jesus describes this with:
"the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth"
This illusory energy of the physical world actually supports our self-centeredness. Thus is supporting our desire for independent enjoyment - outside of our relationship with the Supreme Being.

This illusory energy has the ability to "snatch" away what we may hear from God's representative because as we seek our self-centered satisfaction and misidentify ourselves with these physical bodies, we chase those forms and things of the physical world, and this serves to distract us from what we might have heard from God's representative.

Once we are distracted, we can become forgetful. We can forget what we might have heard from God's representative as we chase the forms and things of the physical world.

This forgetfulness - and the illusory energy of the physical world - is actually designed by the Supreme Being in order to allow us our freedom. He doesn't want to force Himself upon us. He wants us to come to Him freely and without any coercion or force. This is because love cannot be forced. Love requires freedom.

This freedom comes in the form of forgetfulness. Just consider if a father cared about a son and the son cursed the father and said he wanted to get away from him and never see him again. What would a loving father do? The loving father would let his son go. He would grant his son some space and hope the son comes back to him one day. In the meantime he won't be getting in his son's face - he will leave him alone - and let him be.

The Supreme Being is doing something like this, except that He owns and controls everything - so how can we get away from God?

For this reason, the Supreme Being sets up the illusory energy to allow us to forget Him - and allow us to identify ourselves with this physical body so we forget who we are and how we are related with Him.

What do the 'birds' symbolize?

As to the birds who take the seeds away in Jesus' parable, these would represent envy and/or blaspheming of God's representative. This is a grave mistake that can immediately snatch away the seed of love for God before it can take root.

So what about the "trouble or persecution" Jesus speaks of? During Jesus' time, there were lethal threats for those who followed Jesus. Jesus' followers were persecuted, and of course, Jesus was persecuted.

In general, Jesus is describing the challenges that a person may face once he makes a commitment to loving and serving the Supreme Being with his life.

These include family members and so-called friends who don't want us to continue our spiritual path. For example, peer pressure. They also include non-believers who try to convince us that God doesn't exist or that we are all God.

These forms of persecution - just as are many other challenges we may face - are tests. They are testing our resolve to grow spiritually and return to the Supreme Being. Why?

Because the Supreme Being doesn't want us to whimsically return to Him. He wants us to be serious about returning to a relationship with Him. This not only requires commitment. It requires long-term dedication. A weathering through challenges, and taking shelter of the Supreme Being at every turn.

This latter point describes the final situation - the seed which grew into a crop and produced other seeds:
"But what was sown on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
This crop and yielding of multiple times what was sown occurs when a follower of God's representative hears his teachings, takes them to heart, and then passes them on to others.

When such a person passes the Supreme Being's message as heard from God's representative onto others, there is a multiplying effect ("hundred, sixty or thirty times") because those who receive that message can then pass it on to still others.