Jesus often used parables to illustrate a particular point in his teaching. One of his well known parables is the Parable of the Sower – sometimes known as the Parable of the Soil. This parable is recorded in three of the four Gospels – Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. All three are very similar; here is Matthew’s account:
1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13: 1-8 (NIV)
While this parable is most often called the parable of the sower, it is mostly about the soil. If you read it again, you will notice that we have the same sower, the same seeds and the probably same weather. The only variable is the soil. So what was it that caused the seed to respond and thrive in varying degrees?
Let’s look at the four soils from a gardener, or farmer’s perspective:
The Path. The path was the common land that separated each farmer’s plot. Over time, it would become compacted, and hard. Any seed landing there might germinate, but more likely it quickly becomes a fine meal for the marauding birds.
The Rocky Places. If you’re familiar with some of the farms that attempt ply the Canadian Shield, you’ll understand “the rocky places.” The soil itself is fairly good but it is simply too shallow to encourage or sustain strong growth without a lot of work.
The Thorns. The third type of soil – the thorny soil – would likely be found in the field’s corners where the plow was being turned around and the soil left unturned. Lacking cultivation, the weeds will thrive and choke out the desired crop.
The Good Soil. The remainder of the plot has been fully cultivated and prepared. Seeds planted here will thrive and produce the intended crop.
In the next section of Matthew’s account, Jesus explains his parable:
“18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”” Matthew 13: 18-23 (NIV)
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
When we are working with people, we often focus on those who fit into the “good soil” category because the seeds of the Gospel grow quickly and strong. But what if we worked the pathways so a fine ground cover would grow? What if we took the time to work the small abandoned corners and removed all the thorns? What if we pulled the rocks and added compost? Wouldn’t more of the field be better?
What if we took the same approach with people? What if we built a relationship, then helped them till the patch pull the rocks and the thorns?
We can’t make the seeds grow – only God can do that – but we can through love, compassion and friendship maximise the potential that the seed will germinate and grow in strength and be fruitful.