Ever wonder if there was a smart-aleck disciple? He would be the one who raised his hand after Jesus started this parable: “A sower went out to sow…yes, you have a question?”
“Whattaya mean, ‘so what?’ It’s a parable, we don’t get to the ‘so what’ ‘till the ending.”
“I mean, what kind of seed did he sow?”
“My next parable will be about the horrible consequences of being a wise guy.”
Anyway, this is a straightforward parable and its ideas pop up nice and obvious, unless you’re a disciple, in which case Jesus explains it for you. The seed is the word of the Lord, or God’s message. The different places it falls represent different ways people respond to hearing that word. Some people who hear the word have hearts and minds like the hard-packed soil of the path. The word can’t get any grip or take any root in their hearts and soon it’s gone. Some people have so much other stuff going on in their lives that the word can’t get started in the middle of it, like the seed can’t get started in the middle of the thorn plants.
I want to focus on the other two types of responses because of their apparent similarity. Both the rocky soil and the good soil seem to produce the same result at first. We see growth and plants begin. In fact, the plants start out faster in the rocky soil, don’t they? In Jesus’ parable, they spring up.
Anyone who remembers the elementary school science experiment where you put a seed inside a transparent container of dirt so you could watch it grow can figure this out. The seed sends out both a root and a plant – one grows up and one grows down. Both have to work their way through the soil to get to where they need to go. The root gets to a certain depth before it branches out and seeks nutrition from the dirt. The plant grows up (and even if you try to turn the seed upside down they seem to know the right direction) until it breaks the surface and begins to photosynthesize sunlight and consume carbon dioxide.
Obviously, a seed that lands in shallow soil will break through the surface sooner, because it starts out closer to that surface. But it will also die sooner and from less stressful causes, because the shallow soil doesn’t have room for the roots or the nutrients they gather.
But when the soil is prepared, the seed will sink deeper into it and find what it needs to mature and yield its fruit. That soil has been tilled and raked to loosen it, and circulated to allow fertilizer to penetrate. Such soil is ready for sowing, but that preparation was carried out long before the sower picked up his sack that morning and began his work.
If the seed represents the word of God sown in human hearts and minds, then we can see that it grows best in soil that was prepared for it. What prepares us for the word of God coming to us? Well, pretty much everything that happens in our lives, I guess. I can’t say exactly what prepares you for the word of God to take root in your spirit, and now that I think of it, I’m not precisely sure about what prepares my heart for it either. We can guess about generalities, such as humility, an awareness of our sin and an awareness that God loves us all no matter what, but the specifics differ for every one of us. Only God knows what makes us really ready to receive him.
And the thing is, since I have no idea who might be ready for the word of God as it comes through me, I’m not entitled to pick and choose who hears it from me. The sower needed to make sure seed hit every corner of his prepared soil, even though he knew some of the seed would scatter into areas not ready for it.
I don’t get to pick and choose who hears God’s message as God communicates it through me. Maybe I think I’m not somewhere I need to talk about God or act in a godly manner, or Maybe I’m talking with someone who I figure isn’t ready for the word and I don’t bring it up. Either way I send a message about God, and it might not be one I intend or want to send.
All around me God has prepared soil for seed, and all he’s asked me to do is sow it. He has already planned who will tend that soil and those plants to bring them to fruit and called his workers forward to do that – you or I may be those workers in the lives of others as well as the sowers of seed. Sometimes we tend what others planted.
But just as we would have nothing to tend if no one planted a seed of God’s word in someone else’s heart, others in our future will have nothing to tend if we don’t sow now as God calls us to do.