Of Seeds and Soils

And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

(Luke 8:4-15, ESV)

Sometimes called the “Parable of the Sower,” this story can also be thought of as the “Parable of the Soils.” At this time Jesus seems to be at the height of his popularity with the people. It says that “a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him.” He knows that many have come out of curiosity, others with a real desire to learn from Him. He also understands the challenges people must overcome, the choices they would need to make to follow Him and His teaching. He knows it is not an easy thing, and many will not do so, even if they like what they hear from Him.

For some, the Word of God never gains any traction in their lives. They hear it, may understand it, but it does not penetrate the heart and is quickly forgotten. Satan takes that seed away and it never germinates. They dismiss Jesus’ teaching and move on to other things. This experience is not uncommon when we teach or preach the Scriptures in public settings. The hearers do not give full attention to what we say, smartphones distract some, and the “seed” of Scripture gets blown away as they hear it but fail to engage with it.

One thing that strikes me in this parable has to do with the nature of the next two “soils” that Jesus describes. On the one hand there is seed that fell among the rocks, and it withered because it had no moisture. Those of us who have lived in arid climates, or through a season of drought, have seen this kind of soil. Jesus tells us that these people initially receive the Word joyfully and believe for a while, but when life gets difficult, in times of testing, they turn away. When Christian faith becomes hard, or if there is disappointment, their faith withers. On the other hand, when the seed fell among the thorns, it was choked out. Jesus described these “thorns” as attachments to riches and the pleasures of life. In this case it, is good things that crowd out the Word. These people enjoy living life for their own pleasures, having no heart for God or what God may desire of them in terms of caring for others. In both cases, in hard times of testing, and in easy times of plenty, we can find it hard to allow God’s Word to penetrate our hearts and grow us, transform us more into His own image. Both conditions have their challenges.

In contrast to these three soils, Jesus describes the final soil as people who hear the Word, “hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” When we have open hearts, willing to learn and grow, fruit can come, but it takes time and patience. We live in a culture that looks for quick, easy fixes to its problems and struggles to maintain commitment over time. You can see this in the many fad diets claiming to help a person lose weight quickly. We love the idea and we hope it will work, but after a couple of weeks it feels too hard to maintain, so we quit and regain the weight. Some people “try Christianity on” like a garment, then find it difficult or confining, that it interferes with some of their pleasures, so they shed that garment to try on something else.

Jesus challenges the crowd to examine their own hearts to see if they are indeed ready to hear His teaching, hold it fast in their hearts, and patiently wait for the fruit to grow. He also explains it to his disciples so they will better understand why His teaching is fruitful in some people’s lives and not others. We, too, need to understand the challenges people have in receiving God’s Word and allowing it to grow and bear fruit in their lives. We can encourage them and challenge them to inspect the condition of their own hearts, to be more open to embrace the teaching of Scripture, and to persevere with patience as God works for their transformation. These are good things to talk about with those we teach, and good things to examine in our own hearts. Let those who have ears to hear truly hear!

Father, I thank you for the fruit of your Word in my own life. It has come about more due to your patience and perseverance than mine. Help me to be open to your Word, to hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and to be patient as you bring about growth. Please help me not be rocky or thorny soil, but good, fruitful soil because of an openness to you. Also, please help me be patient with those I teach, and learn how to challenge them to examine their own hearts before you. I thank you and praise you in advance for your fruitful work in their lives. Amen.

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