The nursery rhyme asks: “Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” Whether Mary is a good gardener or not, her honest answer must be: It depends on a number of things, not the least of which is the condition of the soil! The seed can be the best, but unless it gets into the soil it will not have a chance to grow, nor to yield a harvest of any kind!
In this well-known parable of the Sower, Jesus describes four different conditions of soil into which the seed falls. We might misunderstand this parable as talking about four different kinds of people, placing ourselves self-righteously in the “good soil” category, but all of these different conditions of soil are in each of our ears and hearts. We pray that the Holy Spirit guide our thoughts and understanding and prepare our ears to be “good soil” as we receive the “seed” of God’s Word and it grows toward an abundant harvest.
Jesus tells us: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.” And Jesus gives the meaning: “When anyone hears the Word of the Kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path.” This first condition is the unresponsive or hard heart. It can happen to any of us! This is the kind of ears that are hardened by pride, self-righteousness and the refusal to forgive; that harbors revenge and bitterness. Those of us who are life-time Christians are especially susceptible to this – thinking “I’ve heard this all before.” Or maybe it’s the judgmental attitude that this applies to someone else without taking it personally to heart. Before “the seed” of God’s life-changing Word can penetrate, take root and soften; the devil, the world and our own sinful nature quickly snatches it away before it can do it’s growing.
In this respect, take note that the devil recognizes the power and effectiveness of God’s Word! That’s why he seeks to “snatch it away.” For just as a seed can get into the smallest cracks, even in concrete, it grows, widening the crack; how much more powerful is the seed of God’s Word! It is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) This is why God encourages us to continue to “sow the seed” of His Word because it has the power to soften even the hardest heart!
And isn’t it also interesting and instructive that Jesus compares the devil to birds? Just as birds can easily be shooed away with little effort (although they come back again and again), so also the devil must flee when we resist him. God’s Word says: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7)
Jesus also tells us: “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun arose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away.” … “This is he who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately he falls away.” The “shallow growth” of mere emotionalism is scorched by the sun of opposition and disappointments in life. Without being deeply rooted in God’s Word and attached to Jesus, the True Vine, it can quickly dry up. Without being “rooted” in God’s Word, mere emotionalism is affected by the changing thoughts of others; by sickness; lay-offs, the death of a loved one, our impending death and other “rocks” in life that can quickly scorch and dry up any kind of beginning growth from the seed of God’s Word.
But again, take note, the waters of Holy Baptism and the forgiving rains of God’s Word can once again give new life to the sun-scorched plant. God provides His refreshing rain of forgiveness so that we can begin anew, with His blessings of new, healthy and stronger growth.
Jesus says: “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them… The cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the Word and it proves unfaithful.” For most of us it’s not that we deliberately despise God’s Word, but we can become so “entangled” in our daily affairs that thoughts of God and the growth of God’s Word are “crowded out” of our mind and heart. The busyness of our lives, all the “things” and “cares” of this life can keep us so busy (always “on the go”), there’s no time to “grow” in God’s Word. It used to be that families sat down together at least once a day and ate a meal together, in which they talked with each other about what happened that day and what their plans were, and the family members could have family devotions together. But this is rare today. What a blessing each week, as God gathers us together here, as His Family of God, to take time to hear and grow through His Word and Sacraments amidst the busy pace of life!
“Still other seeds fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” … “This is he who hears the Word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit…” Ah, this is why the sower sows, and what God desires for you and me, and all people! This is the very purpose of the “sowing!” The “seed” of God’s Word “falling” on good soil in our lives; watered by the blessings of Holy Baptism; fed and nourished by His Word and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; the growth showing itself in loving acts of service to God through our service to others so that “everything we do is done to the glory of God.” (Colossians 3:17).
And what a promise, as we read in today’s first reading: “As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My Word that goes out of My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) We pray that God will create in our ears, hearts and lives, “good soil,” and as a result of the “growth in us,” we too continue to “sow” the seed of His Word, regardless of the “conditions” we might experience. Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him listen!”