Matthew 13:1-9 & 18-23
Parable of the soils
3 He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. 4 As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. 6 But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. 7 Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. 8 Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. 9 Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”
Explanation of the parable of the farmer
18 “Consider then the parable of the farmer. 19 Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don’t understand it, the evil one comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path. 20 As for the seed that was spread on rocky ground, this refers to people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. 21 Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. 22 As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 23 As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce—in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.”
This passage of Scripture is so familiar. I’m sure we have all heard it many times. It has a powerful message! The seed is the Gospel. It is a clarion call to cast your seed wide. Does the seed land on the path where it cannot grow? Cast anyway. Does it land on rocky ground? Cast anyway. Will it land on a thorny patch? Cast anyway. Does it end up landing on good soil? Cast and celebrate God’s great harvest. WE are the sowers. God gives the harvest.
But today, I want to turn the coin over. This in no way negates the first meaning, but it adds another dimension. The Common English Bible uses the header “Parable of the Soils” for this particular passage. With this perspective we are focusing on the hearer and not the sower. But I want to focus things just a little more. It would be easy to use this view to look at others to see the condition of their soil. Jesus is telling this story. His ministry of spreading the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven is in full swing. We realize that God in Jesus is the sower, and we are the soil being talked about. Rather than looking to other persons “soil”, we are to look to our own soil. How receptive to the message are we?
Verses 19 and 23 speak about how people “hear” and “understand” the gospel. “Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don’t understand it, the evil one comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts.” (verse 19) And, “As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce - … .” According to Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, “Here, understanding refers not to intellectual awareness but to a moral commitment involving one’s inmost self. Such understanding is so much beyond intellectual competence that it is regarded as God’s gift.”
Are there times when it is hard for you to hear God at all? Times when we just seem to be unable to let God’s message through and into our hearts? Maybe there are times when we don’t truly embrace what God is trying to tell us? Still other times, when we are overcome by trials or other pursuits, do we find God’s word falling on deaf ears?
There are four soils mentioned in this passage: The Path, where there is no possibility of receiving God’s word. Then there is Rocky ground where there is no depth of soil to withstand trials – the heat of living. There is the Thorny soil where the good news is choked out of our lives by worries or the false appeal of wealth. And finally, there is Good soil where the seed of good news produces and amazing harvest. With the perspective I am using this morning, we realize that all four soils can be in the same person, at any given time- - OURSELVES. If we pause a moment and ponder our lives, I am betting we could each come up with times when we could identify each one of these soils in our own lives. Your homework assignment for this week is to ponder and pray about the soils in our life.
I always hope you notice when, on a Sunday morning, our Scripture for the day leaves out a section. This morning we didn’t read Matthew 13:10-17 where it talks about parables and receiving them. At one point, Jesus says that parables contain “the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.” They were intended for receptive ears. If our soil is good, we will hear and understand – bearing much fruit. Verses 14-15 is a quote from Isaiah 6:9-10. “9 God said, “Go and say to this people: Listen intently, but don’t understand; look carefully, but don’t comprehend. 10 Make the minds of this people dull. Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind, so they can’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears, or understand with their minds, and turn, and be healed.” Jesus uses this, speaking of himself, as the fulfillment of God’s word to Isaiah. Remember the context to this passage in Isaiah. Isaiah is being called to cast the seed so to speak. God says, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah says, “Here I am, send me.” The he is told that his message will not be understood by many. BUT, hear this, Isaiah’s soil must have been good, or he would never have heard the call nor even been given the call. His life was ripe to hear and understand the message.
You may often have heard it said, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” That is especially true for caregivers tending to the needs of someone who cannot care for themselves. The admonition is that we must care for ourselves as well or won’t have anything to give to the one we are caring for. In the extreme, a caregiver can give so much, neglecting themselves, that their own health suffers. I have seen several times where caregiver passes away before the person they were caring for, primarily because they have spent themselves into exhaustion.
So, our job is to keep our own soil in good, receptive condition for the seeds God will sow in our lives at any given time. We are to tend our soil so we will be ready to receive God’s god news each day.
Farmers and gardeners know all too well that the soil is paramount to a successful harvest. Nutrients are absolutely essential. There is a need for compost – organic material – to replenish the soil. They will take care of breaking up the clods that form over the winter as the soil hardens. Then there is fertilizer to add nutrients that may be missing from the soil. Finally, there is the ever-present need for weeding. All these are necessary in order to gain the harvest. The best farmers and gardeners use the best preparation. It takes hard work, and vigilant attention.
Good spiritual soil is our task. So, How do we accomplish that? What are the nutrients that our own soil is crying for? What keeps us attentive to God, and God’s seeds? What helps us to remain open to hear and act upon what we hear? I would begin with the obvious - The Word. It is God’s running communication with us. In the pages of Scripture God is telling both His story and ours. Daily reading of God’s Word is essential. If our livelihood depends on the weather, won’t we go to the best sources of weather prediction to plan our daily activities? Won’t we listen to the severe weather warnings and take action to protect against it?
What about prayer? The Scripture is a general kind of guidance. It is in prayer that we have access to the Guide. God can personalize the message for each and every day of our lives. Prayer is turning to the source of our well-being and asking for assistance. It is giving praise to God as an expression of our awareness and acknowledgement of God’s greatness. It is giving thanks and keeping tuned in to what God is doing in us, for us, and through us. Prayer is that running conversation with the Lord of the Harvest.
So, again to the lessons of the farmer or gardener. They rotate their crops, not planting the same thing in the same place year after year. For us, the advice is don’t get in a rut of doing the same thing in the same way. Rutted routine can deplete the soil rather than build it up. So, as we dwell with the Word maybe we need to utilize a different translation, or several translations. Maybe it is a study Bible that would help. How about expanding beyond our favorite passages or books. I have a devotional that leads me through reading the entire Bible in a year. It takes daily Bible Reading from three different sections – Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament – for each day. That way you can keep from getting bogged down in Leviticus and keep lively connections between to Testaments.
And how about our prayer life? Add to your routine generous doses of praise and thanksgiving for specific things in your day. Maybe a god book on prayer could add a new dimension to your prayer life? Be careful of just running through your list of requests and then leaving. Silence can be a powerful addition to prayer. Spend time just listening for what God would say through nudges.
Another image from working the soil is to let land lie fallow on occasion. There are times when we need to cease doing and just dwell with God. When was the last time you consciously rested in His care, when you just listened for his voice. The Christian life can too easily become a frenzy of activity – doing good for others – and failing to listen to new directions of course corrections.
Those are some “how to” thoughts. You can probably think of many more. But Why are we called to tend our soils? Both sections of our scripture end with the yield, the harvest. Foe the moment, put on the ears of 1st century Galilee. A good harvest for a farmer would have been ten to one. A normal harvest for that same farmer would be around 7 ½ to one. Jesus is pointing to God-sized results. 100 to one, 60 to one, 30 to one! Even the smallest yield that Jesus point to is God sized! God wants our lives to produce God-sized harvests. Let’s hear the Parable of the Soils differently this morning! Get out there and tend your soil as you work for God’s Kingdom. Expect God to do God-sized things through you. Amen.
Pastor Ross Kershaw