Those that are the good ground are they which in an
honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth
fruit with patience.
We have before us perhaps the most loved of all of Jesusí parables.
The story of the sower going out to sow his seed is drilled into the mind
of every young Christian child in Sunday School, and for very good reason.
We have described in this short story, once again, the way in which the
Kingdom of God works. The power of this parable is incredible, and
so I beg o you to listen to it, not only with your outward ears, but with
with the ears of your heart. You have no doubt heard this story a
hundred times, but listen once again, as if you were hearing it for the
first time. Listen to this most remarkable story, which tells the
story of Jesus and our souls.
The Sower went out to sow his seed. The Seed, Jesus says later
-when he explains the parable to his disciples privately- is the word of
God. The Soil, he says, is the heart of man. Think of
that for a moment, in order to grasp the imagery that Jesus is using, before
we look further into the mystery of this parable. Jesus is like a
Sower, who goes throughout the world, spreading the seed of his Kingdom
in the soil of our hearts. We are the soil. Our heart is soil.
What a wonderful image this is! Think of what the image of soil conjurs
up in our minds. We picture perhaps a large field, or perhaps just
the small garden patch in our back yards. There are, of course, many
different kinds of soil, and that is precisely Jesusí point. But
we know this about soil: soil can be changed.
The soil in the backyard garden of the rectory, when we first arrived,
was in need of much care. It was relatively free of stones, but it
had more weeds that I thought existed. Where the soil wasnít
overgrown with weeds, it was hard and packed. I assure you, that
if I had simply gone out on the first day of spring and sowed my lettuce,
bean and brocolli seeds, I wouldnít have had much produce in the fall.
So what did I do? Did I just resign myself to the fact that the rectory
garden was unworkable? No. What did I do? Well, I had it cultivated,
of course. The weeds were either turned under or pulled out.
Garbage that had blown in from Main Street I picked up and put in the garbage.
What few rocks were there I through over into the neighbors lawn (just
kidding!). The soil was hard and packed was soon made quite workable
through the pursuasion of a plow. I took care of the soil that was
there, and in very little time we had small patch of ground well worth
planting a garden in.
You see, the important thing about soil is that it can be changed and
cared for. The state we find it in at any given moment is not the
state that it must remain in forever. And this, I think, is one of
the main messages in the parable of the sower. Jesus doesnít tell
us about the four kinds of soil, the three bad and the one good, in order
to discourage us; he tells us of the three forms 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, and as much as we may have
neglected it, and let the rocks emerge into it, and the weeds grow, and
as much as we have left some of it to get packed hard, there is hope yet
for us, that our heart may be changed. With effort and determination,
the soils of our hearts can be cultivated, and made fruitful. That
is the great message of the parable of the sower.
There are three types of bad soil, and only one type of good.
This seems to reflect once again that truth which was contained in last
weeks gospel: there are many that are called, Jesus said, but there are
few that are chosen. Here he says the same thing but in a different
way: 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 fro granted the fact that most people would
not hear what he said, not with their hearts, which is the only hearing
he cared about, and yet he still preached, day after day. And so
he works with us. he throughs his seed over all of us, knowing that
few of will really hear what he is saying, but nevertheless he never gives
up sowing his seed. He throws it onto the rocky ground, he throws
it into the weeds and he throws it even onto the hard soil of the path.
This would, no doubt, be a poor practice for a farmer to take up, for there
is no point in him throwing his seeds onto the highway or into the weeds,
but it is the way Jesus does it. And why? Well because, as Iíve already
said, there is always hope that soil may be changed, and our Lord never
gives up hoping, as we so easily do.
There is then, the hard-packed soil of the path, the rocky soil, and
the soil which was laden with thorns and weeds. These, he says, are
the three types of bad soil, which we must always be on our guard against.
The hard soil, he says, is the hard heart, 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, or through simple
indifference. The rocky soil, he says, is the heart which casn
actually recieve the seed, but through its own weakness, its unwillingness
to let the Word of God sink deep into itself. This heart, he says,
only lets the seed of the Word take shallow root in the soil, so that when
they are tempted to sin, easily fall away, and the seed soon dies.
The thorny soil, he says, is the heart which is preoccupied with the the
cares of this world. These hearts, he says, are so caught up
with the things of the world, that the seed of the word is choked by thier
cares, worries and worldly aspirations. Now you might expect a preacher
at this point to ask you to ask yourself the question ³which soil
are you?² But I wonít. I wonít because it doesnít really matter.
What matters is that there is the possibility, the hope, no matter which
kind of soil you are, you can become the good soil.
You see, this is the remarkable thing about this parable, there is only
one good soil, but there are many kinds of bad soil, but it doesnít matter
which kind of bad it, the point is that it isnít good. It is easy
for us us to look at someone who is living a life of luxury and indulgence,
and call them thorny ground, but are they any worse off that we who have
neglected our hearts, and have let them become hard? Are people who have
let their hearts get hard any worse that the ones who have let the Word
take shallow root in their hearts, but have not let the roots sink deep?
No. All bad soil is bad soil, and so we are all called to the same
work, no matter which soil we are, and that is the work of cultivation.
So what if you are free from the cares of the world, but are weak when
it comes to fighting temptation? So what if you are strong against certain
temptations, but have a heart so hard and packed that the word of God,
the seed of charity and love, can bring forth its fruit? We are all called
to perfection, and in the end it doesnít really matter what kind of imperfection
we suffered from. All bad soil is bad soil.
So what is it that we are called to do in this parable. I began
by saying that this was a parable of hope, but I have ended seemingly on
a grim note. If you reflect on your own life, I know, I KNOW that
you will find that you are one of those three types of bad soil, we all
are, to varying degrees. So then, let us go home and give up, just
as I was tempted to do with the recotry garden. We are worldly, so
let us just give ourselves over to our worldliness. We are people
who rarely let the Seed of the Word take deep root in us, so let us go
home and tommorrow, or even this afternoon, let us allow temptations once
again to steal us away. Our hearts are hard, and can
hardly even hear the Word of God, so let us just relax in that hardness,
and not fret about it. No, I donít think so. If that were the
message of this parable, it would definitely not be one of hope.
The message of this parable is a simple one. Let us go home, and
prepare our hearts. Let us cultivate our hearts everyday, through
simple prayer, through quietly reading the Scriptures, through continually
recollecting that we live in the presence of God, and through trying to
live in simple charity with one another.
You see, I hope, how these parables of last week and this week are preparing
us for lent. Lent is the season in which we are called to make
special spiritual effort. The works we are called to in lent, the
works of prayer, fasting and self-denial, arenít for us to try and please
God will our good works. No, they are there for us to use as
spiritual tools. Pray, fasting and self-denial are like the blades
of a plow which can turn up the soil of our hearts. These arenít
things we use to impress anyone else, and they are certainly not there
for us to use to try and impress God. They are there for us, they
are not things which are put on our backs as heavy burdens, they are there
for us, for our good. We use them to cultivate our hearts, so that
the soil of hearts is made into good soil, so that we might be better equipt
to receive the seed of the word when the Sower passes by us.