How to reconcile Parable of the Sower with free will? (Mark 4)


I’ve always been bothered by Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, because it literally implies we’re powerless about whether we ultimately believe or disbelieve, that it’s either predetermined or else external conditions can determine it.* I’ve just come to it again in NABRE Mark 4:

3 “Hear this! A sower went out to sow.
4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.
6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots.
7 Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain.
8 And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
9 He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”
14 The sower sows the word.
15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them.
16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy.
17 But they have no root; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
18 Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word,
19 but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit.
20 But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

By contrast, the Church teaches that it’s up to us to choose to believe in spite of persecution, hardship, inexplicable suffering – as if seed could extract itself from the rocks and thorns and move into rich soil. Has the Holy Spirit revealed to us after this parable that indeed it can, that this is precisely what ‘entering the Church’ is?

But this seems to be nonsensical and contradict Jesus’ Parable, because He chose to use ‘seed’, and seed clearly does not move itself: Someone else must move it. Is that why Jesus tells us to pray for more priests and religious, to do this work of relocating the seeds (or of tearing out the thorns and removing rocks)? But in the Bible that’s about collecting the harvest, i.e. once the seeds have finished growing, not during planting time …

So how do we reconcile this parable with free will, when it seems clearly and irrefutably to teach predestination or a certain capricious powerlessness? Am I to read it less literally, and assume the positive interpretations I’ve described above and ignore how they don’t literally agree with the text?

  • Writing this I am reminded of Our Lady of Fatima’s message, “Many go to hell because they have no one to pray for them,” which likewise bothers me – it implies others’ salvation is dependent on us to ask God to change their minds, which doesn’t make sense to me. I know there’s a mystery such that mankind is one body, so to speak, i.e. either damned by being part of Adam or redeemed by being part of Christ, but this doesn’t clarify the contradiction of free will, unless we actually have “collective free will” rather than individual free will. This would explain what Catholic Answers taught years ago about the need for Confession – that sin hurts the Body of Christ, and Confession and penance heals it.




…I hope I do not offend you–truly, I feel for you.

The problem you have is that you do not seem able to separate a format of teaching from an actualized reality.

Everyone knows that science fiction is foremost fiction; it may have accents of technical/biological development or narratives (aspects of reality) but only as mere human projections. Though in space-type movies we have conquered the galaxies (Star Wars) in reality we have junked the only space vehicle (Space Shuttle) at our disposal.

Jesus’ comparison does not mean that seeds are human beings, but that the eco system they encounter is not dissimilar to that of human experiences and plight:

14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” (St. Mark 4:14-20)

Jesus is not teaching that human beings are like seeds that are fixed and unable to choose for themselves; rather, Jesus Teaches us that as God’s Word reaches us we are invaded by the culture around us and only those of us who are determined enough (seeking God’s Word instead of the cultural noise) will be able to germinate and be productive.

Maran atha!



The seed in the parable is one’s faith, correct? The soil (and surroundings) is how prepared a person is to receive the seed of faith.

Pretty much, it’s stating that when one is proclaiming the faith, those hearing it may not be currently predisposed to accepting it. How do we help people become predisposed? By working the soil, killing the weeds and thorns, remove rocks, etc. In other words, most of the time, there’s a lot of work that goes in before people will be ready to accept the gospel. This isn’t stated explicitly in the passage, but it’s implied by the rest of the gospel message.


Thank you! This may answer the question. I had missed that key line:

14 The sower sows the word.

We are the ones who receive the seed, so then what we both noticed about being active to remove thorns, etc. applies.

I suppose the reason for my confusion is the confusion in the translation itself; for example:

16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. 17 But they have no root; they last only for a time.

This verse, rather than saying that the seed is “the word”, changes so that the person himself is the seed. I’m hoping this is merely a bad translation, e.g. that verse 17 ought to read “the word they’ve received has no root” rather than “they have no root”. This raises the question of why it doesn’t say that, though.


A seed cannot relocate itself to better soil and away from obstacles to growth but we can turn away from evil and seek goodness.

I think when people heard Jesus constantly say ‘turn away from your sins’ no-one would have been confused, thinking back to the parable and wondering how a seed can sin, let alone turn away from sin. A parable is only of use in limited scope.

I think people who heard the parable understood the limitations of that form of speech.

God bless.


Interestingly, plants tend to grow towards the light, physically bending towards it. So actually, this saying applies readily, just as a plant in darkness (sin) withers …

A parable is only of use in limited scope.

I think people who heard the parable understood the limitations of that form of speech.

God bless.

The problem I see here is that seeds are central to the entire parable, not a mere accessory as you suggest, but I don’t want to argue, especially as it detracts from the headway made earlier, asking about the apparent overlap between ‘seed is word’ and ‘seed is one hearing the word’…


I would think that a person whom would, convert to the Catholic Faith, would be coming to the fullness of truth and a much more fertile soil.



That’s the rationale for what the Catholic Church should be.

closed #9

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