“But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23 NKJV).
Have you ever cut open a ripe papaya? If you are in the U.S. the chances are you have not. A good papaya tree may produce twenty or more fruits per season. Each fruit contains hundreds of seeds. Therefore, theoretically, at least, each tree could reproduce itself thousands of times each season. That degree of productivity is not untypical in the plant world or even in the animal kingdom when one considers fish, insects and various other categories of life.
It is that very productivity that makes farming practical. If one only recovered the seed one planted, what would be the advantage of planting it? It is only because a single seed will be multiplied into hundreds more that the farmer labors at his task.
Jesus used that same principle to teach a vital lesson about the Kingdom of God. He said it is like a man sowing seeds in a field. Some would never take root. Others would wither and die. But those that fell on good ground would sprout and grow and produce many times more than themselves.
In his parable, the seed is the Word of God. In the hearts of honest and sincere seekers, the word produces faith (Romans 10:17) which leads to salvation. That part of the parable is clear and easy enough to understand. But we may often miss one of the most important things Jesus was teaching.
When the Word is taught it, like seed in the ground, may produce far out of proportion to its own numbers. Consider for example the very first sermon preached (in Acts 2). One speaker, Peter, converted three thousand hearers. That is far more than “one hundredfold.”
But one may argue, “that was in the age of miracles and inspired evangelists.” Okay, but it was still the Gospel of Christ, which was then and is now “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). Jesus’ parable depends on the biological principle that life is in the seed – that is, that the seed contains all essential elements of reproduction of its parent organism. It is not essentially dependent upon a particular method of ground preparation, or of planting.
Neither is the Gospel dependent upon miraculous gifts or special evangelists trained by Jesus. It still will reproduce in great quantity if there are laborers in the field working to sow the seed. The limitation is far more likely to be in our faith and zeal than in God’s Word.