“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 8:5-15 (NIV)
*This parable also appears in Matthew 13:3-23 and Mark 4:3-20
As an act of kindness to myself, I gave up on resolutions many years ago. To keep from feeling like a failure by February, I felt it might be better to approach the New Year much the way my life seemed to flow – in seasons and themes. I noticed that each year there seemed to be a theme to something God and I worked on throughout the year and whatever that work was it always seemed to filter into all the spaces of my life like the delta fed by the Mighty Mississippi in the land of my ancestors.
Eating habits and exercise plans predictably top the “New Year, New You” list. Then there’s the organizing goals, the travel goals, the gonna-start-my-first-book goals. Oh and don’t forget the get-up-at-5am-to-pray goal. That’s one that never makes it to mid-January for me. There seems to be much mystery around how we can make resolutions stick.
I’m not sure the mystery around what motivates us to stay-the-course will ever be unraveled, though the bookstores and the blogosphere are full of suggestions. But the Parable of the Sower, the first parable shared in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, gives us a glimpse into what is going on – not just in our head, but in our heart – when we encounter the Gospel in hopes it will stick.
In these accounts, Jesus begins with a parable and ends with an explanation of it. He doesn’t do that with every parable which is probably why this is my favorite. “Just give it to me straight, Jesus,” is my motto. In this parable, He is giving us insight into why we bail early, long before February.
The Parable of the Sower, rich in agrarian imagery unravels the wisdom of God in a simple but incredibly insightful way. Through it, an invitation is sent into the heart of the listener to stop being just a hearer of the Word, but become a doer as well(James 1:22), to no longer be a spectator of the Gospel but a participant in the Gospel. This parable challenges us to be less inactive in hearing the Gospel and more active in living it. Convicting us of a superficial approach to the Kingdom, we are encouraged to plumb its depths, to reach outward and bring it in, to allow it to not merely be something we hold out in front of us, but a treasure that is held within us.
No longer making the Word a part of our life, but making the Word our whole life, we begin to see what it truly means to follow Jesus. The Parable of the Sower invites us to respond to a Gospel that is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, able to divide bone from marrow(Hebrews 4:12).
In this parable, the Great Sower goes out to sow Seed and He sows it liberally in all places so that none of us have an excuse – we will all receive the Seed (Romans 1:20).
The question is, how will we receive it?
The Seed falls amongst four different places: the side of the road, the rocks or rocky path, the thorns and weeds, and the rich, fertile soil. Each one of these landing places correlates with a posture of the heart.
Seed that fell on the side of the road represents someone who hears the Word of God but can’t understand the Gospel. This leaving them with a superficial reaction to the Gospel. The Word doesn’t take root and so the Deceiver, the Enemy of their soul, comes and snatches it away quickly.
“If some fail to do what God requires, it’s as if they forget the word as soon as they hear it. One minute they look in the mirror, and the next they forget who they are and what they look like. However, it is possible to open your eyes and take in the beautiful, perfect truth found in God’s law of liberty and live by it. If you pursue that path and actually do what God has commanded, then you will avoid the many distractions that lead to an amnesia of all true things and you will be blessed.” ~James 1:23-25 (Voice)
Seed that fell on the rocky path represents a hearer of the Word that listens and takes it in with joy and enthusiasm, but the seed finds “no soil of character” (MSG), no depth in the soil of the heart. The emotionally-driven romantic response, if you will, to the Gospel begins to wear off as pressure begins to wear down. Pressure to live out the Gospel in daily life where it is hardest causes one to trip up, to stumble. Persecution from without makes one weigh the glories of a life with Jesus, finding that the Gospel costs not just the Savior His life, but requires ours as well and so counting those costs and finding them much too high a price, the hearer falls away.
“Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing.”
~James 1:2-4 (Voice)
Seed that is sown amongst the thorns and weeds tells us of a hearer that hears the Gospel but the maturation of the Word is soon choked out by two things: worry and wanting.
Constant worry and distractions from the world, along with illusions of wealth and the epidemic of having more, gives way to a divided heart, one that seeks to serve two masters. Serving more than the Master will always lead to a “suffocating of the Kingdom message,” (TPT) hindering one from living a life full of fruit born from the seed sown. Worry and Wanting will strangle the Gospel the hearer encounters and as a result the life of Christ is “choked out of them” (Voice). Worry and a preference for earthly riches and pleasures over heavenly ones yield no life or fruit.
“Those who depend only on their own judgment are like those lost on the seas, carried away by any wave or picked up by any wind. Those adrift on their own wisdom shouldn’t assume the Lord will rescue them or bring them anything. The splinter of divided loyalty shatters your compass and leaves you dizzy and confused.”~James 1:6-8 (Voice)
The final patch of earth where the Seed is sown is found in good soil– rich, fertile, tended soil. The Seed finds a hearer who hears, who understands, and who grasps the Gospel. They lay hold of it and allow it to lay hold of them. They possess it and allow it to take possession of them. They find life in it and thus bear exponential fruit. There’s growth and production as they take the Gospel within, embracing it so that they can bear fruit without.
“So walk out on your corrupt liaison with smut and depraved living, and humbly welcome the word of truth that will blossom like the seed of salvation planted in your souls. Put the word into action. If you think hearing is what matters most, you are going to find you have been deceived.” ~James 1:21-22 (Voice)
This last patch of earth and the hearer it represents gives us clues to making the Gospel stick. If the Gospel is to take root in this soil, the agrarian parable must translate into an agrarian lifestyle of the soul. The Gospel must take root deep within, not merely without, in the form of behavior modification or performance-driven living. One must seek to understand what this translation looks like.
Understanding the Gospel is like tending soil. The soil is tended and turned to achieve maximum fertility. The hearer is careful to water the soil of the heart, to feed it Truth, and to pull up the weeds of lies. They tend their heart-plot like the steward of God they were created to be, understanding that it only takes a small frame of time for the heart-plot to be overgrown with worry, wanting, hardship, and trial. All of this tending is tedious but prosperous and returns to the Sower a great and bountiful harvest.
In keeping with that fertile, agrarian soul, one must grasp the word, receive it, and embrace it. This is much like understanding, but it differs insomuch as it leans more to mastery of that which is understood. It is not enough to just understand, it must be applied, tested, worked out. It must, “blossom under pressure” (James 1:2-4). It must seek to remove the temptations of following emotion and superficial receiving of the Word. It must test and approve what the will of God is, if the will of God is to be truly understood (Romans 12:2). It means standing guard against the Enemy as he takes the form of worldly enticements, whispering to us that God owes us more. One will need to keep watch as the high tower of the soul is attacked and encouraged to acquire possessions and status as its saving grace, then lured away into the darkness of worry as one seeks to maintain the world-plots of possessions and status rather than maintain the heart-plot in the garden of the soul.
The fertile soil is a place of much activity and application. But it is also a place of deep, rich, life-giving growth. Growth that gives life to the hearer and propagates the heart-plots surrounding it, bringing glory to the Sower of the Seed.
The Parable of the Sower is meant to show us not only the heart of God for us, but also His desire for us to interact with His Love and integrate it into the fertile spaces of the heart. And from that grow, tend, and cultivate fruit that is not only beautiful, but bountiful. In doing so, we bring Him glory.
The Gospel is a Seed that roots deep and reaches far, so far as we allow.
The question is never will He but will we?
As the Parable teaches, that is a matter of the heart. If we choose to allow the Word to find its home in our heart-plot we will have honored His sacrifice well as we bear His likeness as cultivators of the Gospel.