A post that goes along with my Theology of Surprise writings. I wrote this to share with my church community. Luke 8:4-15
4 One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: 5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. 6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘When they look, they won’t really see.
When they hear, they won’t understand.’
When they hear, they won’t understand.’
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.
This month, I have had the privilege of exploring this passage with the kids at our church. I love that they keep it simple, and I think they are really getting to the meaning of this story. In fact, a couple of the kids said it’s not hard to understand because Jesus explains it. J And, I think they do get it at a very important level, they are…..fertile soil. Last week I asked the kids to think of a person in the Bible and decide which kind of soil that person was and why. Their answers were amazing and thoughtful. Connor answered, Cain, and he said that Cain started out as good soil, but that he got jealous and wanted what his brother had, so he became thorny soil. Yea, the kids at our church are that smart.
Someone else mentioned David, which sparked a conversation about David’s story and how it contains examples of each of the types of soil in it. Scripture tells us that David was at times packed soil, at times rocky soil, and later in his life we see a lot of thorny soil. We also talked about His heart for God which we likened to good soil. This, lead us into a conversation about how each one of us can be any one of the types of soil at various times in our life. Same thing with Noah, who was also mentioned. And, then, Fiona, one of our youngest members mentioned The Bleeding Woman as someone who was good soil. Nolan, another of our youngest members mentioned the Sinful Woman as an example of good soil. Both of them were likened to good soil because of their faith. Those two comments stopped me in my tracks and totally changed the trajectory of my thinking about this parable. I love kids.
We have spent time in class talking about soil, and the kind of soil that we want to be. We have spent a lot of time talking about how difficult it is to cultivate good soil, to be fertile soil. We also talked about how tough it can be to admit when we are packed soil, rocky soil, or thorny soil. We talked about the Sower, a lot, and we dwelt in pictures that depicted a farmer hastily and generously throwing out seeds. We dwelt in pictures of evil looking weeds choking out plants. Some significant and beautiful conversations have taken place as we cultivated soil during class time. I have no doubt that God was generously sowing, watering, and growing seed as we dwelt in this passage and reflected on many of the teachings that we have engaged over the years.
I have been doing a lot of thinking about Luke 8:4-15. I think sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge our part in the process of cultivation. It makes sense to me, why not leave it all to the Sower, HE is good at it, and it is HE who really makes the soil good anyway. It is God who makes things grow. Other times, I think we overemphasize our part in the cultivation process - we become the weed that chokes out the work that Christ is trying to produce in us. It is interesting to me that so often when it comes to this parable, or others like it, we tend to emphasize a particular aspect of it. It is natural to emphasize the Sower, or to emphasize the Seeds, or to emphasize the Soil. I have heard good sermons on each! But, this month, dwelling in this passage with children has helped me to see the relationship between the three. This parable shows us the divine relationship between Sower, seed, and soil. The truth is….there will be no harvest without a Sower. There will be no harvest without Seeds. And, there will be no harvest without Soil. The relationship between them is special and it is essential to a harvest. The Sower, indiscriminately and scandalously throws out the Seeds, the Word/the teachings, “love your enemy,” “if you want to save your life, you must lose it,” “don’t worry about the things of this world.” That crazy Sower takes a risk, as He sows Kingdom seeds in the Soil, in us, in the world that He loves. It may be good soil, it may not be, but the seeds are sown either way. And, the good soil, we are told, produces a harvest. A huge harvest. How interesting it is to think about the seeds that have been sown already, in each one of us. Seeds waiting to grow. Seeds in the processing of growing. Makes me wonder what God is calling us to do in the process? It makes me wonder, what is the Sower up to?
Of course, we must be cautious about using this parable to labels ourselves, or anyone else, or even our churches. We must also be very careful not to think that we alone can cultivate good soil or produce a harvest. Any farmer or gardener will tell you that planting is a humbling endeavor. It IS God, who makes things grow. But, we must also be willing to hear Jesus’ words in verses 8 through 10. Jesus says that we need to use our eyes, and ears, to see, and to hear. This isn’t the first time that we see this phrase or phrases like it in Scripture. Truly, the relationship between the Sower, the Seed, and the Soil requires seeing and hearing. I think that can be said of all relationships. As it relates to this parable, I think we can make a strong case that good soil is that which is ready to receive, ready to hear Christ, and ready to obey. To do, the things that we have seen Him do, and to do the things we have heard Him tell us to do. If Sower, Seed, and Soil are all references to a divine relationship, then surely seeing and hearing are akin to sunshine and water, they are needed for the production of a harvest, for the bearing of fruit.
I think this is true, but the Gospel of Luke always seems to lead to a surprising ending for its audience. It is a great thing for us to decide that we want to be “good soil.” This is the turn that this parable seems to lead us to, right? The question….What kind of soil are you? What kind of soil do you want to be? The good Christian wants to be good soil. Right? Absolutely! YET, who is it that hear and see, and cling, and bear fruit? In Luke’s Gospel, they are women who bleed, they are men who collect taxes, women with sinful lifestyles. They are, Roman soldiers, prisoners, and children. There it is again, the Gospel truth is that the folks bearing fruit in these stories are not the religious – they are the poor, the lame, and the blind who have heard the Word, who have seen the Word, who have believed the Word, and who have responded in faith. What has convicted me most in this passage is that the people in Luke who bear fruit are the people who believe they NEED the Sower, and that they NEED the Word. They desperately need God. They desperately need to touch Jesus. They need Jesus to come their home, or speak a word of healing. They need the Sower. They need the Word. Do I?
The kids at my church have me thinking that perhaps what Jesus is saying in this parable, is that good soil begins with a heart that is ready to see, and to hear, and with the recognition that we too, we too, are in some way, poor, lame, and blind. We are the disciples who fall away when troubles come on account of the Word, we are the rich young ruler, unable to part with our riches, we are the religious leaders who hear, but do not understand. We struggle with callousness and selfishness. We are the believers who struggle to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.
So, let us endeavor to be good soil, but, let us also remember that good soil is the product of divine relationship between Sower and Seed, and Soil. Let us remember that it is absolutely dependent on our willingness to see, and to hear, and to recognize our need for Sower and Seed.
I think the most hopeful word in this passage is in verse 15. It says that, “they patiently, produce a huge harvest.” The word patiently has been a word of mercy for me this month. I struggle to see, to hear, and to act in faith. Yet, I find hope in knowing that the divine relationship is one of patience. The fruit that the Lord wishes to produce in me, is fruit that He also bears. The Sower is patient. May we be good listeners. May we recognize our need for Sower and Seed. May we be people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.