While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “ ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’ “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. – Luke 8:4-15
Today’s passage contains only a tangential water reference, “no moisture” but the parable is so familiar and resonates with my inner farmer so I decided it was worth a look. Jesus is teaching in parables, dense packets of insight and understanding. I am always amazed by the depth of meaning in these seemingly simple stories. The story Jesus tells to this crowd of people “from town after town” is about farming. I am sure this was a familiar topic to the majority of His listeners. I suspect it was common practice for people to have small gardens even if they had other occupations or life pursuits.
The main character of this story is the “seed” being sowed. Seeds are truly amazing things. In all shapes and sizes they contain all the information and molecular machinery to produce an amazing array of plants. The metaphorical meaning of the seed in this story is really the “the Word of God”, the underlying logos of the universe, and how all those listening can find the undiscovered country. The story is so familiar that it is a challenge to view it with fresh eyes, but I have been surprised by hidden wells before so here goes.
The person sowing the seed is a farmer (God). The farmer is scattering this seed far and wide and it is falling on different locations, each of which has different ability to support the growth and development of the seed into a mature plant. The four locations are 1) on the path; 2) rocky soil; 3) among thorns; 4) good soil. Let’s take each one of these parable pools and explore their meaning.
The first location is interesting. I have created paths in most of the gardens I have planted in my life. It is important to have a path so you can navigate the garden to tend the plants while not trampling or disturbing them. The path is a place near the farmer’s sowing, but it is a location that has been compacted and corrupted by the frequent traffic of many feet. The path may be have been good soil at one time but it is now not a good place to plant because of the way it has been used. I think this is analogous in some ways to people who become so focused on the path to enlightenment that they miss the point of the path, which is to “access the garden”. Jesus explains this part of the parable this way “Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” I think “the devil” is really good at distracting us when all that is really required is to believe and be saved.
The second location is the rocky soil. I have tried to garden in rocky soil and it is really frustrating. Digging is hard, water does not stick around for long, there is not much to nourish the plants as they grow, and fertilizer that is added tends to wash away and do no good. So not only is is it difficult for the seed to get a start in this hard place but it is difficult for the seed to grow and thrive due to lack of nutrients and water. The plants on the rocky soil are disconnected from their water source and cannot thrive. Jesus explains it this way “Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root.” What Jesus is describing is people with hard hearts or souls that are not really open to change, even if they outwardly look like wondering souls.
The third location is the “thorny place” with thorns that “which grew up with it and choked the plants. One of the tasks that every gardener must do often is to remove weeds, plants that are trying to compete with the things you have planted for nutrients and water. Unchecked, these weeds will make it difficult or impossible for the crops you planted to bear fruit. We all have busy calendars full of events, meetings, and things we think are important enough to add to our calendar. I freely confess I have a hard time saying “no” to things. Part of the reason I started this blog is to force myself to “weed” my spiritual garden on a regular basis so that I have a better chance of bearing the fruit God needs me to bear. Jesus explains it his way “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” The interesting thing about the maturation process that Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with chronological age or earthly wisdom. Mature followers are actually supposed to become as children in relation to God.
The last location, the “good soil” is the goal here. Good soil is full of life and organic matter, capable of accessing and retaining moisture to support strong roots and growth. Good soil comes about through careful garden tending (avoiding trampling and compacting), rock removal, and weeding. This is what discipleship is supposed to look like. We are to engage in all of these spiritual disciplines to make ourselves good soil to that we can grow strong and thrive. Jesus explains it this way “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” We need to persevere in our pursuit of God. It is a process and a sometimes difficult path – not a destination.
I think one of the reasons Jesus shared this parable is that He wants us to take ownership in what type of “location” we are to receive the seed being sown. Through our choices we can make ourselves into a fruitful place capable of bearing abundant fruit, or we can make ourselves into a frightful place capable of bearing bad fruit or no fruit at all. This process is hard and will require much pondering, prayer and perseverance.
Prayer: God Help us to pursue You with passion and a desire to make our hearts good soil for your word.