How is your heart? How is your soul? How is the Word of God taking root inside of you? How is that evident by the fruit of your life?
These are among the most vital questions that may be asked.
The scene in our Scripture for analysis and comment this week – in Mark chapter 4 – features Jesus telling a parable from a boat, speaking to the pressing crowds upon the shore. As most of them were subsistence farming, the story Jesus told was a familiar mental picture – that of a farmer sowing his crop by flinging the seeds in a field.
In this parable we will see four distinct soil conditions, or applicationally, four distinct soul conditions. And the challenge for all of us in today’s culture, is to move beyond merely seeing Christianity as a component of life rather than the source of life itself. We need to see our faith be more than a hobby … something that can lose appeal once religion ceases to be fashionable.
Any of you who have ever tried gardening know that the quality of your soil is everything. It needs to be great just like it is in New Jersey, where the soil most everywhere is amazing. It is, after all, the Garden State.
There was a particularly fertile region in northern NJ where I grew up named Great Meadows – a place with totally black soil that was fantastically fertile. And so when we moved to Texas and went to buy our first house, I did so out of the encouragement of the soil I noticed in the cotton field across the street – a dark, black soil. But when I went to plant my first garden and put the shovel into the ground, that soil stuck to it in a terribly gooey and messy way. The locals told me it was called black gumbo. The only way to get it to grow much was to mix in a lot of other organic material.
Again, the quality of the soil is everything in terms of fruitful agriculture. And again, the quality of the “soil of your soul” is everything in terms of the quality of your life in living fruitfully and meaningfully for God.
We are going to take one day each this week to look at the four soil/soul conditions. A nice feature of this parable is that it includes both the simple facts of the story as Jesus told them from the boat, and then he later gives the interpretation privately to the disciples. But first, let’s jump in by reading the entire passage as a whole …
4:1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge.
2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.
7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.
8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around they asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!” << quoting from Isaiah 6:9,10 >>
13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word.15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
Some questions and thoughts for further discussion…
- Take a vote among your family or group and see how many think this passage would be better called “The parable of the sower and the seed,” or, “The parable of the sower and the soils.”
- If you were among the crowd that day hearing Jesus’ teaching, do you think you would need to have the meaning explained to you at a later time?