July 16, 2023

"Good Soil”

Rev. Scott Landis

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

I find it fascinating that this story begins with Jesus sitting by the sea – an image we can all relate to, especially those of us used to island living. And the crowds are so large that he must get into a boat and preach from the water. As an aside, I’d love to have that problem. What puzzles me is that he begins his preaching – in a boat, in the sea – by telling them a parable in which he uses a farming metaphor. For the most part, we can surmise that his hearers were fishermen. They knew about throwing nets, scaling, and filleting fish, but they left the planting, cultivating, and harvesting to those who lived up-country – those who understood and worked the land. Their gifts and experience were primarily with the sea. 

That doesn’t discount the message, but it did put me in touch with my own limited understanding of seeds and soil and waiting patiently for the harvest. Perhaps you share my ignorance. In fact, it might be fun to know, how many of you ever lived on a farm or have had significant farming experience? [seek show of hands]

I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania. My home was in the suburbs on a fairly small piece of land. One summer I got the bright idea that I would try to plant a small garden – after all, how difficult could it be? I soon found out. It was then that my limited understanding of all things farming was exposed. That a successful harvest does not come about by simply planting some seeds. A whole lot more is involved as we will see even in this parable.

I mention all of this to remind you of the unique problem of teaching with parables. They typically create wonderful word pictures that MAY help us understand a theoretical concept, but they can also leave you in the dark if you have a limited understanding of the metaphor utilized. I almost want to say to Jesus, “Read the room. These guys aren’t farmers, they fish for a living. You’ve got to speak to them in their language.” But perhaps I’m overthinking the whole thing. So, let’s “dig in” to the parable of the soils (pun intended). [Pause]

I’d like you to notice some rather obvious but often overlooked aspects of this parable – aside from the possible problem of the image used. It’s important to note that there are 4 different types of soils identified but only 1 type that bears fruit.  This may help us understand just how difficult our work may be as people within the church. 

It can sometimes be very frustrating (whether you are a preacher or parishioner) of the limited response we often receive when inviting others to join us in the ongoing work of discipleship. As I read the parable, only 25% or ¼ of those invited ever responded. The seeds were spread about indiscriminately, but only those that landed in “good soil” grew to maturity and yielded 30, 60, or 100-fold. The others simply withered away. 

So, whether the invitation is simply to come to church, to help on a work-project, to contribute to a financial appeal, or to serve on a board or committee. The positive and lasting response may only be 25% and if that’s the case – as Jesus describes – we are doing quite well. 

But, I think Jesus was looking beyond the response rate in this parable. While it is typically called the Parable of the Sower or the Parable of the Seeds, it’s primary focus is on the soil and what we are doing to cultivate good soil in our individual lives. It’s a parable that is inwardly focused and begs us to ask the question – what is the composition of the soil in my life – my heart —  my soul? [pause]

Personally, I believe we will all embody each one of these soils at varying points in our lives. There will be days or seasons when the soil of our heart may be as hard as a rock. Bitterness may overwhelm us. Anger many impact our souls so much that our heart cannot receive anything given by God. It is then that our heart must be broken open if we are to receive. If not, our bitterness will further isolate us from God and others seeking to help us. 

More often the soil of our heart will be semi-permeable – room for growth but filled with rocks. In that case we may become extremely enthusiastic about an invitation from God. The chance to help in some way, to bring a meal to someone in need, or teach a class. But the initial enthusiasm quickly wanes. We get bored or resent the ongoing need and back away sometimes feeling used in a thankless endeavor. 

Or the soil of our heart may contain a lot of good soil that is perfect for seed growth, but the thorns of our ego or personal gain and need for recognition get in the way. When that happens, we begin to grow enthusiastically just like the seeds in the rocky soil, but the temptations are too great. The desire for wealth and notoriety become a huge distraction. The need to be thanked rather than to serve can choke out all the initial beauty and life that were initially evident. 

But if our life is truly filled with good soil, the seeds that are planted – the gifts received from God – will grow exactly as intended and needed. Just like the song beckoned, “Lord fill my heart. Lord fill my heart. Lord fill my heart with good soil.”

Beautiful lyrics AND a lovely sentiment but be careful what you wish for. Because if our heart is truly filled with good soil – God WILL use it. Seeds WILL be planted. Not every---one will come to fruition, but many will. We may even get a little frustrated, impatient as we are waiting for that which has been given to mature and grow, but that is the way it is with seeds and farming. All the conditions have to be right AND we have to be willing to wait for what is needed – to grow. 

I recently heard a funny little story about that. The other day on our Zoom Bible Study one in our group – who will remain nameless – once planted some seeds and waited patiently for them to sprout and grow. When they did her patience eluded her and she felt she could speed things along by pulling on them just a little in order to grow more quickly. Doesn’t work that way, does it? But I digress. The seeds are not our focus. The soil’s where it’s at. 

Our work and what we need to concentrate on is to cultivate good soil and that can only be done by spending time with the Master Gardener. We cannot do this on our own. God invites us not only to receive the seed – the Word – but to do that which is necessary to prepare for the gift. Through prayer, fellowship, worship, study, and genuinely seeking a relationship with the one who taught about seeds and soil from a fishing boat. 

And we need encouragement. From others who are working their soil as best they can to prepare for gifts only the gardener can give. [Pause]

Whether or not you have had any experience as a gardener is of little importance or consequence. What matters is your desire to let your heart, your soul, be nurtured, fertilized, watered, and given the time it needs to become good soil. Only then will the gifts of God germinate within you and you may grow more fully as child of God. 


About Our Website Any opinions expressed in this website are those of the writer or writers involved. Unless otherwise noted, such opinions are not to be construed as the position taken by any of the boards, committees, or council of the church.