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, Mark, Luke, and John, call it the "kingdom of God." Much has been made of Matthew's terminology, but when one looks at parallel passages, it is clear that the words "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 anyone spreading the seed (the Gospel or the Word of God). The "soils" represent the four types of people who hear it.
1) "The Wayside" pictures uninterested people who hear the truth, but because they do nothing with it, it is quickly removed by Satan (the birds).
2) "The Rocky Soil" receives the seed and it springs to life, but its roots do not go very deep (a shallow understanding). When it is challenged by the worldly elements, its growth is stunted, and it is unproductive.
3) "The Weedy Soil" is filled with competing "plants" which describe worldly riches and pleasures. Because it shares the available sustenance and is weak, this "plant" yields to the dominating weeds and produces no fruit.
4) "The Fertile Soil" is the good soil in which the seed is able to develop a strong root system (rooted in the in Christ and God's love - Eph. 3:17; Col. 2:7). Because the seed is allowed to grow into a healthy plant, it is able to produce more seed, thus allowing it to reproduce itself (lead others to Christ).
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 weed-infested soil, and the fertile soil are all part of a metaphor explaining what the apostles would face as they went into "all the world to spread the Gospel of Christ (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)." As you and I study other parables, each detail is important to the understanding of what Jesus wanted only His disciples to understand. Don't you feel privileged to be able to understand His teaching? I know I sure do!