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Jesus' vision goes far beyond what is. He sees what could be--all that we could produce, generate, and bring to harvest.
And Jesus said to them [his close followers], "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word.
"These are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.
"These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, immediately they stumble.
"Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
"But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred."
Mark 4:13-20 NKJV, condensed
The Seed Needs Soil
We already looked at this parable with the spotlight on the farmer scattering seed everywhere. But when Jesus explained it, he put the focus on the receptivity of the soil. Although I may enjoy talking about the marvelous grace of God, Jesus wants to talk about me and what I do with that grace.
The farmer planted the word. Matthew called it "the message of the kingdom." What happens to the seed spread so generously on our lives? It all depends on us. We can accept or reject it, nurture or starve it, ignore or treasure it. Good seed of itself will not grow, it's helpless until it finds receptive soil. Both the seed and good soil are necessary to bring forth a harvest.
The seed in this story is the life and message of Jesus. Freely and in abundance the seeds fall--grains of grace, peace, love, forgiveness, courage, faith, wisdom, whatever you need from God. In return, the job of the soil is to welcome the seed and be the medium in which the seed will live and flourish.
Long before we knew anything about God, our loving heavenly Father was busy sowing his seed in our hearts. But as soon as the seeds hit, the evil one came to steal them away. When we were young, when we thought we were the center of the universe, when we were searching for happiness in all the wrong places, the Faithful Farmer kept spreading those seeds. But we heard and saw nothing. The granules could not penetrate and bounced right off.
Until, suddenly, one day the light came on. We heard the word and it struck a chord within us. Finally we noticed. For some, the light blazes again and again, only to be short-lived and flicker away into the darkness. Jesus described what takes place. We receive the word with joyful enthusiasm, intending to be true and faithful, but just can't get our act together. Trials and disappointments arise, someone questions our new-found faith or makes discouraging comments and we drop because there is no root to support us.
The soil of our lives is ever-changing. As we mature we become a prime target for thorns. Our soil is often very good, we're at the peak of our potential. But there's just too much other stuff going on. There's lots to worry about. A great deal to buy and keep up with. Soaring responsibilities. Families to hold together as best we can. We battle the lies and deceit of the evil one every day. The word of our loving heavenly Father gets crowded out; choked is the way Jesus characterized it.
Then Jesus held out an amazing possibility! Good soil, that will produce an awesome crop. I never found anyone who claimed to be good soil; we know ourselves too well. But Jesus believes in us and painted a glorious picture.
The seed, alone, can do nothing. But put the good seed in some deep, loamy, weed-free soil, and Jesus promised a miraculous outcome. There's a footnote in one of my Bibles which says a normal yield at that time would have been 7 1/2 times, and a great crop may have yielded up to10 times. But Jesus knocked everyone off their feet. He had some tremendous figures up his sleeve and popped them off, starting at the number 30! He continued in increments all the way up to 100! We are flabbergasted! You talking to me, Jesus?
When Jesus told this parable to the crowd, he began with the directive, Listen! And he ended with this evocative question, Did you hear what I said; you have ears, are you listening? Jesus is looking for good soil willing to partner with God and make miracles happen, thirtyfold and counting! That's a concept which stretches way beyond our wildest imagination. And he wants to know: Are we listening? Will we do anything about it?
The Gospel writers did not tell us how the disciples reacted. I suppose they were stunned. Even Peter was speechless. Jesus' words would need to incubate awhile. What in the world was he asking of them! What would their future hold! How does it happen that the message of God's kingdom can produce such amazing results? What was in that little seed! The power, the potential, was staggering. And all it took was some good, fertile soil.
Two thousand years later, we still mull over these words. Are we listening? Do we understand? Why would we choose to be anything else other than that super-productive soil! Why do we settle for less!
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Did you ever have a garden or know anyone who did?
If so, please share a garden story that sticks in your mind.
Every January at the PA Farm Show, there are several super-sized pumpkins on display; last year I saw one that weighed over 500 pounds! Down the street from me there was a dad and his teenage son working all last winter to refurbish a crappy-looking, beat up old Chevy Nova; it works like new now and looks terrific! What is the best thing that you ever produced/made/grew, etc?
What do you know about garden soil and cropland? What makes the difference between stunted and bountiful growth? How is poor soil amended?
What similarities do you see between your life and garden soil? When was your ground impenetrable to the message of Jesus? Why do you sometimes fail to recognize God's presence? Is your life a constant fit of starts and stops that gets you nowhere? How could you increase your staying power and get those roots deeper? What is it like to live in a thorn patch? Can you identify your troublesome weeds? What "fruit" do you produce in partnership with God? By what means could you amend the soil of your life?
Jesus included four types of soil in his parable. What other descriptions of soil could Jesus have used?
25% of the farmer's seed reproduced; 75% did not. What does this tell us? Was the 75% wasted? Maybe Jesus was describing his own ministry. What do you think?
The seed and the soil--neither can produce without the other. What are the implications of that?Describe "the word" which has been planted in your heart?
Assess the present condition and receptivity of your spiritual life?What is the season of your soul? Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall?
Even the disciples did not understand this parable. Do you find that encouraging or discouraging? What made the disciples any different from the rest of the crowd? In what ways are you like or unlike the disciples?