The most common definition of a parable is that it is an earthly picture of a heavenly reality. There is some truth to this view, but it hardly reveals the meaning and purpose of parables. In Matthew 13:10-17, Jesus was asked by His disciples why He had begun speaking in parables. Jesus replied that His teaching was meant to be understood by those who believed in Him, but was to be hidden from others. Jesus called the subject of the parables "the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven." Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use "kingdom of heaven." The others call it the "kingdom of God." Much has been made of Matthew's terminology, but when one looks at parallel passages in Mark and Luke, it is clear that "heaven" and "God" are interchangeable.
Some have interpreted the parables as a general truth, and suggest the reader not get caught up in details. However, when Jesus taught the parable of the sower (or soils as some call it), He also interpreted it. The parable is given in Matthew 13:1-8, and the interpretation is found in Matthew 13:18-23. Jesus was very clear that each detail had a relevant meaning. The "sower" is one spreading the seed (the Gospel or the Word of God). The "soils" represent four kinds of people who hear it. The first, "the wayside," pictures hard hearted people who hear the truth , but because they do nothing with it, it is quickly removed by Satan (birds), so it has no impact on the hearer. The second "soil" receives the seed and springs to life, but its roots do not go very deep in understanding. When it is challenged by unbelievers, it is easily silenced and thus, is unproductive. The third "soil" is not weeded of a life focused upon worldly riches and pleasures. Because it shares the available sustenance, and is weak, it yields to temptations, and produces no fruit. The last "soil" is fertile ground. It is teachable, and able to share what it has learned with others. The fertile "soil" produces seed for further planting.
As can be seen in this example, each piece of information represents something specific. A sower, the seed, the birds, the packed down soil, the rocky soil, the unweeded soil, and the fertile soil are all part of a metaphor for what the apostles would face as they go into all the world to spread the Gospel of Christ (the King of the Kingdom). As you and I study the other parables, each detail is important to the understanding of what Jesus wanted only His disciples to know. Don't you feel privileged to know His teaching? I do!