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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.”
10 Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “Why do you use parables when you speak to the crowds?”
11 Jesus replied, “Because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but you have. 12 For those who have will receive more and they will have more than enough. But as for those who don’t have, even the little they have will be taken away from them. 13 This is why I speak to the crowds in parables: although they see, they don’t really see; and although they hear, they don’t really hear or understand. 14 What Isaiah prophesied has become completely true for them:
You will hear, to be sure, but never understand;
and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing.
15 For this people’s senses have become calloused,
and they’ve become hard of hearing,
and they’ve shut their eyes
so that they won’t see with their eyes
or hear with their ears
or understand with their minds,
and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them [Isaiah 6:9-10].
16 “Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear. 17 I assure you that many prophets and righteous people wanted to see what you see and hear what you hear, but they didn’t.
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.”
Matthew gave a longer version of the parable we read in Mark yesterday. Matthew didn’t just recap Isaiah 6:9-10, as Mark did, but quoted it in full. He grouped the seed-sowing parable with two other farming parables (Matthew 13:24-32). Matthew’s readers found, in one long sweep, Jesus’ warning against trying to separate the wheat from the weeds too early, and the mustard plant image that showed how the kingdom that started small with Jesus and his disciples grew and flourished.
(Tomorrow evening Resurrection will host “A Conversation About Faith and Abortion” from 6:30-8 p.m. (Central Daylight time), in the Leawood Sanctuary and online. Click here to add your perspective to our survey before the meeting, and here for full information about the panel discussion. You can watch online at www.cor.org/live.)
Lord Jesus, thank you for those who’ve planted your kingdom’s seed in my life. Teach me how to discern when to speak, and when to silently let your love shine through me to others. Amen.
I’ve been a Methodist for 17 years, now, but I spent much of my time before that in an Evangelical church. Church of the Resurrection seems to have very balanced discussions about faith, but my background in the Evangelical church was heavily skewed toward, well, evangelism. So my early understanding of Jesus’ parable in today’s passage was almost entirely relating to the farmer. In that interpretation, I was the seed sower, and my main concern was sowing seed. It wasn’t my job to prepare the soil—I just sowed seed at every opportunity with the understanding that some of it would take root and some of it would not.
This isn’t a harmful understanding of this parable by any means, but it is incomplete. After years of focusing on sowing seed, it was actually a revelation for me to start looking at soil cultivation—not just in others, but in myself. I had been so mission-focused on evangelism that I often neglected to make sure my own roots were growing deep and keeping healthy. Soil cultivation was a huge part of this story that I missed out on with the imbalance I had imbued my faith with.
In the mental health world, we call this self care. Self care has garnered a bit of a frivolous reputation, but that’s really what it is: making sure your mind is ready for big things to happen. Many of us who live stressful and demanding lives know the value of self care. So I wanted to extend the understanding of self care to the spiritual self—self care involves de-stressing and prepping your mind for the things you have to do, but it also involves prepping your soul for the things you have to be.
Focusing entirely on soil cultivation isn’t healthy either. Ignoring the role of the farmer brings about another imbalance. There are many times we need to focus on soil cultivation, but there are also many times when we need to be that farmer sowing seeds, knowing some of it will take root, and some of it won’t.
In the mental health world, we call this transcendence: living for something bigger than you. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (a ranked list of what humans require physically and psychologically) listed transcendence as a human need—our souls crave it—but listed it as the highest human need. It’s exceedingly hard to prioritize that need if our lower-level needs, like belonging and safety, are not being met.
So what I eventually learned from this parable isn’t transcendence or self care, but balance. At times I’m the soil, and I just have to focus on being really good soil; at times, when I encounter soil, it will be up to me to be the farmer, sowing the seeds and hoping that they take root in others. The trick is, it’s not really up to me to decide each day which of those two roles I play. I have to be open to being either of those things, and I have to be looking for opportunities to be the farmer or the soil as God guides me.
* Wright, N.T., Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 166). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.