Mark 4:1-20 Again he began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that “they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” '
And he said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’
Here is the way I learned to sum up this parable: A Sower goes out to sow seeds, and some seeds fall on the path, and some on the rocks, and some in the weeds, and some in good soil- and the good soil is the only place in which the seed takes root and grows and bears fruit.
And when Jesus interprets some verses later… the seed is the word of God, and the different types of soil are different types of people… and as the seed- the word- is sown, some of it falls on ones who don’t get it- (path people) and some on the shallow who want instant gratification, (rock people) and some on people who can’t get past the lure of money and material things (weed people) And finally, there is some that falls on people who are somehow able to internalize the word and live it out… and these ‘good soil’ people are the ones who bear fruit.
OK- so what’s left to talk about? Because when we hear about all the different types of soil that there are for the seed to fall on… I know which kind of soil I want to be… who is with me… who wants to be the good soil?
Of course! We all want to be the good soil. I want to be fertile ground- I want to hear and understand and internalize God’s word and let it take root my being so that I can live out my Christian walk as a blessing- bearing bushels of fruit wherever I go… and if God would allow it- even bearing fruit in every season, depending on my gifts of course.
That’s it baby! Good soil! And God will be so proud of me- and I’ll feel so good about myself and my willingness to be fertilized and cultivated and even pruned… I’m tough... I'm from Jersey! I can take a little pruning… it’s the fruit that’s important… lots and lots of fruit!
But you know... when I stop there, when I keep only to that interpretation- when I put myself in that mindset of ‘good soil’, or at least working toward being the good soil… the ideal Christian… I set myself up. I find myself constantly examining myself with my own homemade soil analyzer- checking to see if I am rock and weed free… in other words, judging myself as to whether I’m good enough, or doing enough, or bearing enough fruit, or at the very least that I am always in some stage of fruit production.
Of course, I need something to judge myself against… something I can compare my production level too! Good thing God provided all these other people! Because I need to know where I stand when it comes to fruit bearing… So… as I leisurely walk down the path- (probably packing down my neighbor's soil in the process… I start looking at the folks next to me in the vineyard… I take my own inventory of rocks vs. radishes and it doesn’t take me long to determine approximately where I stand.
And the fact is we do this in all areas in our culture- comparison starts early and we live in society that thrives on competition and the survival of the fittest. Marketers use it to sell everything from cars and real estate to fitness products to breakfast cereal. The ideal is set out before us… the perfect car, the perfect home, the perfect Barbie body- and then we work to get as near to that ideal as we can… all the while looking around at our neighbors to see if they have what we have… and we label ourselves and others accordingly…
And since we are so accustomed to comparing on a daily basis that it gets hard to shut it off, so it happens even in… church, (ouch).
We can be walking our 'walk of faith'- even engaged in some type of ministry that is bearing fruit…but as we come in contact with others… individuals or churches… we can’t help but get out the soil test kit. How is our church doing as compared to other churches? Am I a spiritual person compared to so and so? And ultimately we use these measurement techniques to self determine who we think we are in God; we measure our walk, our closeness to God and even our value in the Kingdom by results… by product…by numbers…
What’s the harm though? It’s scriptural isn’t it? 'You will know a tree by its fruit?' Aren’t we supposed to examine ourselves and work to make ourselves better servants of God? Aren’t we supposed to be working out our salvation with fear and trembling? Trying to clear our fields of rocks and weeds and thorns? Trying to become more willing vessels for God to work through?
Absolutely. But when we begin to judge ourselves on the basis of how much fruit has been harvested from our little plot of land, as opposed to someone elses plot of land- when we fall into the trap of determining our own value and others value instead of letting God tell us our value, we set ourselves up to believe that God accepts us based on what we do…instead of who we are.
And further, when we set up a mindset that product, or works, or the attainment of the ideal, is an indicator of how much we are being used by God, we discount the power of the Holy Spirit! We water the Spirit down into something measurable by our standards- into something that we can see with human eyes. We fail to take into account the power of the sower!
We haven’t talked much about the sower… only about soil types… only about us and our part in all of this. But the truth is that it’s the sower who is the main character of this story.
A Sower went to sow some seed… If you notice, the sower had no regard for where the seed was thrown… he threw it up in the air… The sower wasn’t stingy with the seed, worrying about where it went or if it was going to land on the wrong soil. He just kept throwing it out there.
If there is an ideal in this story that I want to model, it’s the Sower! I want to be the one who shares the word of God so lavishly and abundantly with others that I am not for a minute concerned where it lands. That I don’t take out my ‘soil test kit’ before I give- to see if someone may be hardened, or if what I share might be snatched away by birds, or whether there might be rocks or thorns or whatever… that I might continue to spread the word and share the love of Christ everywhere I go with whomever I meet regardless of what I might think of them, knowing that there is so much grace out there that it covers all things and all people… that giving God’s love is never a waste of time, or wasted, ever.
Can you imagine if we were to sow the seeds that each of us has been given… like that? Not worrying? Not excluding anyone? Not trying to change anyone? Not looking over the fields and agonizing about where to invest our limited resources?
Can you imagine for a moment if our resources… our seeds… were limitless? That they could never run out? That we would never have to worry about getting a return on what we sow?
Seems like a dream doesn’t it? Yet this is exactly the seed that God has sown in us and it's exactly the same seed we have to share with others. We can adopt a theology of abundant giving because we are created by an abundant giver! We don’t have to worry about who is worthy and who is not, or how our church is doing compared to the church down the street, or who we can invite in and who might need some cultivating before they are allowed in, because in God’s vineyard… everybody is in!
But then what about the soil that rejected the seed? What about those who were too hard, or shallow or tempted by other things? Well, the only thing I can say to that is praise God there was seed sown there too. Because here’s what I know… that there are times on any given day when I make myself as resistant as the path… I don’t care if the birds come or not, because I don’t want to look at any more seed. And there are times in my life when I want my own way… instant gratification… and I take it, and the seed that fell on me that day didn’t have a chance. And there are days in my life that the temptations of materialism or just plain laziness in front of a wide-screen get in the way of any kind of Kingdom work I could have done…
But Hallelujah! The sower keeps sowing seed. Despite my rejection, despite my hardheartedness… despite whether I allow myself to be good soil or whether I put the thorns out… despite what I think of myself or anyone else… the seeds keep coming... God continually pursues… God continually plants… God continually loves… It's what God modeled for us from the cross… even when everyone had turned away, even when Jesus was completely rejected... the seeds kept coming, in fact they fell like rain… and the harvest from that day is still coming in!
That tells me that whatever kind of soil we are on any given day, God has made it possible to bear fruit. Keep sowing… keep encouraging one another to sow… sow in abundance… sow in love.