The cluster of parables of growth in Mark 4 offers powerful images that put the focus on either the Sower, the seed or the soil (one parable does involve light but is closely connected to the others, especially the long parable of the sower).
The constant to these parables is the seed. The seed is the enduring Word of God that never returns void (Isaiah 55:10-11) and always grows. Nothing can stop the Word of God and the growth of the kingdom of God (the last parable of the sequence, the “mustard seed” serves as the exclamation point to the idea).
There is a variable, however, and it is the type of soils into which the seed grows (or not grow). There is a soil, if you can call what falls along the path soil, that produces nothing (due to Satan’s activity). There is a soil that allows plants to grow quickly but they also disappear just as quickly (like seasonal flowers). You might call it the “entertainment” dimension of the Good News of Jesus: Great stuff with initial interest, but once things get hard and the novelty wears off, people move on to the next thing. There are other soils that cause the plants to die a slow and painful death, choked by “thorns.” People who know God and the Word, but through attrition and “the desire for other things” and the busyness of our age, they lose focus and cease to bear fruit (could it be a commentary on the curse of our ever-increasingly busy lives?-hey, wait a minute, I thought the digital age was suppose to give me more time, rather than less time!)
As the commentator R.T. France observes, these variables explain why, in spite of the unstoppable nature of God’s Word and the inexorable growth of the Kingdom of God, not every one will respond to the call. However, and this is truly good news for all of us, there is type of soil that “hears” and “receives” the Word (like a big “welcome sign” at the entrance of a hospitable home). Jesus is calling you and me to respond and put that big sign up that says: ‘Word of God, Jesus (John 1:1), I welcome you into my heart. I will receive you so that you might grow and flourish and that I might bear lots of fruit.’ This is powerful and life changing!
The shorter version of the parable of the sower pulls its weight too. Here the sower represents all those who are following Jesus and spreading the seed. The key to the parable is that the seed grows and comes to a place of being harvested through a process that the sower does not control: “He/she knows not how.” Our responsibility comes in the actual sowing of the Word to those around us (‘gospeling’ has now become a action verb!). The growing is not our concern (‘He knows not how”); but the seed grows “by itself” (the root word is ‘automatic’ as in an automatically activated process, see Acts 12:10 which uses the same word). Our job comes at harvest time, when “immediately” (Mark’s trademark word!) the sower knows it’s time to reap from the sowing. Of course the sowing is also a tough job (see Ps 126) and the temptation to quit because of rejection or lack of results (remember the types of soils!). But the Lord is telling us: keep gospeling, and leave the process up to me; only be ready when the harvest comes.
There is a great promise of harvest for metro-west. Our job at TCC (all of us) is to keep gospeling those around us and watch these seeds grow, even as we really “don’t know how.” Paul nails it when he says, “God gives the growth” to his own ministry in tough, post-everything, pluralistic Corinth! (1 Cor 3)
Thoughts for the week:
May you be encouraged to keep seeding the ground around you (your loved ones, your neighbors, your co-workers, all those God puts on your path), knowing that God is at work in ways you do not know!
In case you worry about the kind of soil you are, allow the Word to find a welcome host in the soil of your heart. Here also, God will cause the Word to flourish as long we remain open and receptive to Him!