Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Alan Watt
A longtime resident of Austin, Texas, once told me that growing plants
in that city—various kinds of groundcover, flowers, bushes—can be very, very
difficult. That is in large part due to the many types of soil in that
community. There are, in fact, about 25 different categories and, of
those, dozens of subcategories—ranging
from heavy, black clay to sandy loam to thin layers covering deposits of
limestone. As one expert has said: “The best way to tell what your soil needs
[for plants or vegetables you want to grow] is to have it tested.”[i]
For the sower in today’s parable, having the soil tested first
wasn’t really an option. Besides, supposing he was already familiar with the
land, we may assume he knew what he was doing. We may assume he knew that the
seed he was broadcasting was compatible with the soil.
The part that doesn’t add
up—at least offhand—is how indiscriminate
he was in the scattering, the distribution of those seeds. What I mean is this:
While broadcasting them on the good soil makes perfect sense, doing so on the
other three kinds makes no sense at all. Why would he have cast some of them on
the path, which most likely was hard, was packed down from all the foot traffic?
In any true way, how could they really get down into the ground in the first
It’s somewhat similar in the case of the rocky ground. True, a number
of the seeds could at least get underneath the soil and grow some
roots. But the rocks would keep them from growing deeply enough to get an
adequate amount of moisture. And sowing seeds among the thorns—that also
is a no-brainer. On the one hand, doesn’t it seem that that fellow must not
have had much going for him? That he was sloppy and wasteful? On the other hand,
we do need to remember that the story is a parable. And, strictly speaking, a
parable is nothing more than a form of teaching—certainly not something to be
taken literally. It’s not something that perfectly corresponds to the world we
actually live in.
What exactly, then, is the
point that Jesus is making? For starters, let’s suppose that he
himself is the sower—that he is the
one who, in his teaching and healing, is spreading the word of God, or as he
puts it, the word of the kingdom. Is he simply telling the disciples that, when
it comes their turn in sowing that seed, they will come upon a variety of
responses? And not to be surprised by them? That the gospel will indeed take
root, grow, and produce fruit in a good number of people? But that others, like
the soil on the path, will be impervious to the proclamation of the gospel? Who
don’t have in themselves any opening for it at all? And there will be those
who gladly hear it, but, not having counted the cost, the price of growing in the good news, later fall away? And still others
whose worries and preoccupations will crowd out the word of God?
I believe those various responses are at least part of what Jesus is talking about. And it’s not difficult to
think of examples of each type of response. Let’s take the inhospitable pieces
of ground one at a time, beginning with the path. As far back as classmates in
high school and college, I can think of those whose minds were already made up
that God in any former fashion did not even exist.
I was surprised any young person could so easily make that claim.
To me that seemed awfully premature. But that was the opinion of one
fellow in my class in high school—his name was Ron. Now, it’s true he seemed
to almost enjoy being disagreeable and contrary. And maybe that had a big part
to do with it. But, regardless, that is
how he saw things—at least at that point in his life.
Have you ever known someone like that? Jesus says that, in the parable,
the birds represent the Evil One, Satan—the one who quickly scoops up the seed
of the word of God. For such cases I guess we could paraphrase the saying,
“The devil made me do it.” We could say in this instance, “The devil made
my heart like a packed-down, hardened piece of ground.”
Now that does bring up the question of why some people seem to be made one
way and others in ways that are totally different. For example, as a child I
remember in reading the story about the Hebrew people in slavery in Egypt, how
strange the role seemed to be that God had given to Pharaoh. This is what I
mean: Before visiting Pharaoh at the palace and demanding that he let their
people go, Moses and Aaron were told this by God: “But I will harden
Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders [in a series of
And that’s what happened—at the
endof nearly every one of them. To me, it seemed unfair. God, at least in part, made
Pharaoh the way he was, in order to achieve some higher purpose. So I have
wondered whether it’s the same when it comes to faith. Since faith is, as we
believe, a pure gift from God, why do some gladly receive it and others do not?
Why would God let the devil have his way with some, but not others? After all
these years, it remains a question for which I have never found a good answer.
One might wonder whether it’s the same when it comes to the rocky
ground. I tend, however, to see persons in that
category as having some freedom to
change their circumstances—as having
some ability to choose. Cannot a person in rocky soil, a so-called
“shallow” person—not decide to
do something about that? Not take steps to change,
to modify his or her frame of mind?
And become spiritually deeper? Cannot
such a person count the cost ahead of
time and be prepared to hold fast in periods of trouble or persecution? Which
for many people in wealthy
nations—who also are blessed with religious freedom—are
often not true hardships at all, but
rather major inconveniences?
The same with those in the third category—those surrounded by the
thorns of anxiety and by priorities that are misplaced. Do not such people allow
some of the preoccupations of the world to stifle the reassurance Jesus gives to
us? For example, in the sixth chapter of Matthew:
at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap
gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them….
why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field,
they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you,
Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”[iii]
It’s like this joke. A businessman had just parked his luxury car on
the side of the street. When he opened the door to get out,in another automobile
a man who did not see him in time drove by, taking the door right off. The
businessman was beside himself. He shouted to a nearby witness: “Did you see
what that guy just did?! He ripped off the door of my new car!” The passerby
replied, “Excuse me, sir, but I think that’s the least of your worries right
now. What happened is his car also took off one of your arms.” “Oh, no! My
Versaci suitis ruined! And my Rolex! What happened to my Rolex?”
If truth be told, there’s probably some
combination of each kind of soil in
each of us. It was certainly
that way for the original disciples.
And, like them, hopefully in us
the vast majority is the good soil
that is cultivated, fertilized, and watered by God—our Master Gardener.
Hopefully, through years of meaningful worship and regular prayer, through
opportunities like attending Vacation Bible School as children
and teaching it as youth and
adults, through other acts of love and service, the fruit that we bear has been,
is, and will be of considerable size. Not the same
amount or kind for everyone, for each
of us has been blessed according to the measure provided by God.
And we then, in our own
right, faithfully cast the word of God into the lives of others.
Like the sower in the parable, we too do well to be indiscriminate in the
broadcasting of the seeds passed on to us. For what we may think seems like a person of an inhospitable nature—who may look
to us to be made up of a hard, dry path or rocky soil or thorn-infested
ground—is, in reality, potentially good
soil. It’s not unlike these
words I once learned at a church camp:
Inch by inch, row by row, I’m gonna make this garden grow.
All I need is a rake and a hoe and a piece of loving ground.
Inch by inch, row by row, God bless these seeds I sow.
And make them truly grow ‘til the rains come tumbling down.
Let us pray. O God, Creator of all that is good, you have made us to be
good soil, to receive with gladness your word as manifested in the life of your
Son.May that word in our livescontinue both to grow and bear fruit. And may we,
according to the ability you have granted us, share the seeds of that word with