Sexagesima, February 27, 2011

Luke 8: 4-15

You just heard what is perhaps the most familiar of all of Jesus’ parables. You have no doubt heard the story a hundred times over the years. But today, I ask that you listen to it again, as if you are hearing it for the first time. I ask that you listen to it, not only with your outward physical ears, but with the ears of your heart.

What is described in this short story is the way in which the Kingdom of God works.

It tells the story of Jesus and our souls. The parable begins, “A sower went out to sow his seed". Jesus is the Sower. The Seed, is the word of God. And the Soil, he says, is the heart of man. As he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside, some upon rock, some among thorns and some on good ground. These describe the four conditions of people’s hearts.

The heart like the ground by the wayside represents those who have no part in salvation, they never even bothered to believe at all.

The wayside soil, he says, is the heart which has become indifferent to the things of the Kingdom, the heart which can no longer even hear the Word of God, through laziness, through lack of care.

The fowls of the air immediately snatch away the word from their hearts. I am sure you have all known people like that, who really have no belief whatsoever. The wayside is hard, and packed down. No seed can penetrate into it, and it is washed away, or it just sits there, and the birds come down and take it away.

Some of the seed fell upon the rock, and when it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. In this case, there is a little bit of soil, a very small amount, but there is not enough soil to retain any moisture, which is the essence of Christ. There is just a small amount of knowledge, or desire, and at the smallest trial, such a heart falls away, and perishes. The rocky soil is the heart which can actually recieve the seed, but through its own weakness and unwillingness only lets the seed of the Word take shallow root in the soil. Therefore when it is tempted to sin, it easily falls away, and the seed soon dies.

Some hearts are like thorny ground. The thorns spring up with the good wheat (which is the word of God). These thorns choke the desire to follow the commandments of God. They choke out the knowledge of God, because the heart turns away from God. There are hundreds of ways that a person can turn away from Christ, even though he or she appears to be a Christian.

They go to church, they have families, and may even give financially to the church. They do everything externally just like everybody else, except they don't have any life within them. People who are amidst the thorns do not have Christ, even though they call themselves Christians. The thorny soil is the heart which is preoccupied with the cares of this world. They are hearts so caught up with the things of the world, that the seed of the word is choked by their cares, worries and worldly desires.

Some of the seed fell on good ground. And it sprang up and bared fruit an hundredfold.

What is good ground? Good ground is tilled carefully, and any clumps of dirt are broken up. It is sifted and fertilizer is added to it. It is watered and protected so no one can steal the fruit it produces. There is effort involved in having good ground. It does not just "happen". In other words, one must take care of the seed which is planted within them.

Our Lord says about those on the good ground, “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”

Patience is the most difficult word in the English language. The Christian life is one of patience and endurance. This verse tells us to be patient, and cultivate our ground every day, every moment.

As we have heard, there are many different kinds of soil. But the important thing about soil is that it can be changed and cared for. I think that is one of the main messages in the parable of the sower.

Jesus doesn’t tell us about the four kinds of soil in order to discourage us. He tells us of the three types of bad soil so that we can then turn and cultivate that soil, which is our heart, and turn it into good ground. He tells us this parable in order to give us hope. Hope that as bad as the soil of our heart is: as much as we may have neglected it, and not cleared the rocks from it, and let the weeds grow, and as much as we have left some of it get packed hard - there is hope for us, that our heart may be changed.

With effort and determination, the soils of our hearts can be cultivated, and made fruitful. In this parable Jesus is saying that the seed of the word of God is sown in the hearts of all men, but for the most part it is never able to bear its fruit.

When Jesus preached he almost always took for granted the fact that most people would not hear what he said, at least not with their hearts - which is the only hearing he cared about. And yet he still preached, day after day.

And that is how he works with us. He throws his seed over all of us, knowing that few of us will really hear what he is saying, but nevertheless he keeps sowing his seed – He never gives up. He throws it onto the rocky ground, he throws it into the weeds and he throws it even onto the hard soil of the wayside. WHY?

Because there is always hope that the soil may be changed, and our Lord never gives up hoping.

Now at this point you might expect that I am going to ask you the question, which soil are you? But I won’t. I won’t because it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there is the possibility, the hope, no matter which kind of soil you are, you can choose to become the good soil.

In the parable, there is only one good soil, but many kinds of bad soil. The point is: it doesn’t matter which kind of bad it is. The point is that it isn’t good. All bad soil is bad soil, and so we are all called to the work of cultivation. If you reflect on your own life, I know that you will find that you are one of the three types of bad soil. We all are, to varying degrees.

In His parable Jesus uses an image taken from planting to describe the different sorts of responses people make to God's word for a reason. Jesus is telling us that that is exactly the way God's shows himself in the world.

The word of God is like seed. As the sower, God does not place the seed carefully in the ground, He throws it everywhere. The seed therefore falls onto different types of ground which means some of the seed will take root and grow and some will not. If our hearts become good soil, the seed of His word will take root and grow in us. For that reason, God sows his seed especially through the church - in sermons and in the sacraments and in prayer and in Bible study and in our relationships with our fellow Christians. And the reality is that some people respond to God and other people don't.

Some people try to lead lives which are focused upon God and the church; other people are lukewarm and half-baked in their commitment; other people get going with God, but then difficulties arise, and they cannot sustain their faith; others just drift away, because they allow other things to get in the way.

It is certain that Jesus wants us to try to be as good ground as we can possibly make ourselves be.

Being good, cultivated ground means being receptive - looking for God's activity in our lives, trying to understand everything that happens to us in terms of his plans and purposes, wanting the seed of his word to take root in us and grow. The seed which is God's word has a purpose. And the purpose is to help us grow up into Jesus - what St. Paul calls "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."

Remember, the seed that falls by the wayside, or on dry rock, or among thorns and weeds is lost. While the seed that falls on good ground will spring up as fruitful plants. The message of this parable is a simple one. God wants us to bare fruit! And therefore, we are to prepare our hearts.

We are to cultivate our hearts everyday – through worship, through prayer, through reading the Scriptures, through trying to live in love with one another - and especially by always remembering that we live in the presence of God.

“But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”

Last updated - June 26, 2011.