In the Name...
A man went to a farm stand, and, to make sure he was getting quality produce he asked, “Excuse me, I’m buying these for my wife and need to know if they have been sprayed with poisonous chemicals.” “Oh, no,” the farmer replied, “You’ll have to do that yourself.”
I have no green thumb. In fact, I have two left thumbs when it comes to gardening. Believe me, I can kill cactus. I know people, on the other hand, who can take anything and make it grow anywhere, so I know the problem isn't with the seeds I get in the packet, it's with me and what I do with them. And I think that's what Jesus is saying in today's parable.
The seed of which he speaks is the Word of God, so we know there's nothing wrong with it. And it is liberally, some would say wastefully, sown everywhere, or perhaps it might be better to say, given to everyone. But what do we do with it when we get it? My gardening friends tell me the first thing they do is prepare the soil and that's the focus of the parable. What kind of soil do we prepare for the Word of God?
First, we read, some seed fell on the path and was walked on. The path, the beaten path, soil that is solidly compacted so that we can get from place to place. There is a beaten path of mind and spirit, as well. We all live with patterns, routines. Things must be done a certain way. Our spirits can be beaten solid. New ideas, new outlooks cannot be accommodated. Even in our church life we go through the motions, we say the right things, but we don't end up doing the right things because we mistake the additives for the seed - liturgy for worship; bake sales for mission. We trample the seed underfoot in our rush to get on with our routines.
And some seed, we read, fell into shallow soil. I used to think this referred to our modern-day obsession with instant results - the half-hour TV show, the internet, the app - but then I realized they didn't have these in Jesus' time so the human obsession with instant results is really nothing new, we just act it out differently.
Several years ago, I got to attend a Billy Graham rally at Texas Stadium and it was very exciting. Some 50,000 people were present, and then, at the end, hundreds, maybe a thousand, went forward to make their personal decision for Christ. Very moving. But here's the thing. The Graham organization has been doing studies for decades and they report that only 5% of the people who go forward at a typical rally actually link up with a regular church life.
Joining a church, weekly worship, going to Bible study, participating in outreach, is too complicated. It's easier to shout Hallelujah, feel good, get your shot of holiness, and go home. But really responding to the Word of God requires more than just a superficial reaction. Some group reported a couple of years ago that only 35% of self-described born-again Christians say they use the Bible to guide their morals and ethics. So, I wonder how many people who went to the Jordan River rallies to hear John the Baptist really responded to his preaching.
The parable then goes on to say that some seed fell among thorns and thistles. Now, this is very interesting soil because there's nothing wrong with it. It's incredibly fertile. In fact, anything and everything can grow in it and does. And doesn't that describe our lives? Mark Twain wrote he once knew a man who tried to do too much - and succeeded. Life is so busy. There's so much we can do and we should do, and want to do, - work, clubs, family, friends, sports - where do we make the time? Priorities. Do we prioritize God and His Church? Do we read the Scriptures? Do we participate in ministries? Do we even attend worship on three-day weekends?
All this soil needs is weeding. There are no rocks to move, no heavy digging, no breaking up. This is naturally good soil and probably describes most of us. We're very open to the Word. We want it to grow in our hearts and minds. We just need to make a little room for it.
And finally, we read, the seed fell into properly prepared soil and the harvest was as much as a hundred-fold, but - and this is amazing - a minimum of thirty-fold. Minimum, that's the least. Thirty-fold. Wow!
And so the parable ends on a hopeful note. The marvelous miracle of growth. But it's not an unaided miracle. As with gardening, the soil must be tilled, the plant must be tended, but most importantly, the decision must be made - do we want to grow deeper roots and spread our branches? Do we want to be tall and fruitful?
Jesus never saw a Japanese bonsai, but if he had, I'm sure he would have used one in a parable. The bonsai is not a species of plant; it's a style of gardening. To make a bonsai, the gardener takes the seed of a tree and plants it in a pot and then, over many years, carefully trims the tree and cuts the roots to prevent it from growing naturally. Instead, then, of a mighty oak or pine, with deep roots and spreading branches, it becomes something artificially stunted, gnarled and deformed.
It takes a lot of work to keep a bonsai because it's always trying to get out and be what its seed wants it to be. A lot of people work just as hard to keep the Word of God from growing inside them. Like the bonsai, they stay in their pots, safe and cosy. They don't want to grow in the faith because the implications of that growth are too unsettling. It might mean they have to do something or go somewhere or meet someone they'd rather not. They'd much rather live a quiet life.
Science has given us the means to correct any soil condition we may find in our gardens. God has given us the means to correct any soil condition we may find in our hearts.
Let's keep our gardens weeded and prepare to enjoy the harvest.
In the Name...