I recently had reason to visit with some of my New Jersey relatives, and while I was there I drove past the high school I had attended 40 years ago. I noted that on the same hillside behind the football grandstands was a pathway leading into the woods. It was there 40 years ago; it is there today. The path was used by the cross country team and the gym classes, and apparently has continued to be used for the same ever since. Surely, over all those years, there are seeds of some sort that have fallen on the pathway – thistles or grass or ragweed – something. But it has never grown, as the path is too hardened to be penetrated.
And that is the picture of today’s reading in Matthew 13 as Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed. You will notice that there is nothing wrong with the seed in the story – which equals God’s Word. That is not the problem. The difficulty is in the condition of the soils.
The hardened pathway is the person who is firmly walled off to receiving the Word into his life. The only way it is going to happen is with major disturbance and tilling that busts through ground as hard as concrete. It is not likely to happen on its own.
And then there is the soil just off the hardened pathway, which represents a few openings between the rocks that allows the seed to take root and begin to grow. But there is still a hardness there that disallows the roots from growing deeply and nourishing a growing plant through the hard times of drought, which speaks of difficulties and persecutions that inevitably come into the life of the professed follower of Christ.
A third soil is that which is off the path and in the midst of thorns and weeds. Here the seed is able to penetrate and begin to grow, but it gets choked out by all that is around it – the stuff of this world primarily – and it never gets to the fruit production stage.
But the final soil is the tilled field, where the seed finding this good earth grows and flourishes to the final state of fruit production. But even with production, there are three degrees of fruitfulness.
Everyone wants to think of themselves as fruitful at 100% capacity, but it is sadly not so. We have, in every evangelical church, a total mix of all the soil conditions and seed growth results.
We have the hardened heart people who, when they show up, do so out of some sense of obligation – more likely to a mother, spouse, or someone else, rather than God himself.
And then we do see the folks who do seem to grow for a while, and it is a great sadness when physical troubles or the peer crowd causes them to jettison their faith for a more comfortable situation. They soon drift away and are no longer seen.
And it is not rare in modern America to witness those who become much attached to the things of this world – to a variety of toys and joys that draw them increasingly away from faith, from participation with the church family, and ultimately also from the Scriptures and relationship with God.
Yet the great joy of ministry, even in the surrounding context of disappointments with so many people, is the opportunity to witness those who have seen God’s goodness in their lives as they have trusted him. They understand that a great gift has been given them and that the Word within them is their very lifeblood. Because of this, they are grateful for those who planted the seed in them … of others who watered it … and of God who is the one who caused it to grow and produce fruit.
This also means that these fruitful followers understand an obligation to be about the work of preparing the soil in other people’s lives – starting with their family and extending to the larger family of faith. This takes intentional effort. You’ve got to go the shed (so to speak) and get out the shovels and rakes. You need to sweat at it, and you need to study yourself as to when is the best time to drop the seed into the ground. The work has now just begun, because you have to be sure it is watered and tended. You need to be mindful of the weather, the insects, the weeds and other external factors that may choke the seed and the fruitfulness of the person whom you are mentoring/discipling/teaching.
It is about being intentionally cross generational – the lesson of last Sunday.
And it is about being a person of seed – a person with an appetite for the Word of God, NOT ONLY FOR YOUR OWN LIFE, but so that you may invest it by planting it well in the soil of the hearts of others around you. And that is the lesson for the coming week!
The Parable of the Sower – Matthew 13:1-23
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “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. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 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.22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”