Sunday, July 20, 2008

The parable of the sower can sometimes be one of the more difficult stories in Matthew to read. The problem is not that the story is hard to read or difficult to understand. Quite the contrary, the story is quite easy. What often makes it difficult is the challenge it puts to us. Like the apostles and disciples before us who heard Jesus' teaching, we are forced to examine ourselves in His light. The story begins seemingly innocuous enough: the sower goes into the field to sow seeds. I say innocuously enough because the translation is literally "the sower." It is not a random "a sower" but rather "the sower" who has the seed that can transform the soil. And Jesus makes it quite clear that the Kingdom is the fruit of the seed and the soil. When the seed meets the soil and germinates, the Kingdom flourishes in our midst. So far, so good. The problem comes when it begins to dawn on us who or what we are in the story. We are the soil.

Jesus then goes on to describe the different types of soil and its response to the seed. If we miss the description in the parable, Jesus takes time to explain the parable more clearly near the end of our reading. By the end of Jesus' explanation of the parable, every disciple who hears the parable of Jesus is forced to confront a difficult question: What kind of soil am I? Some in our midst may never get the parable. Those "without ears to hear" are simply the lousy soil among us. Having heard God's word, they reject Him utterly as they go on with life. For them, the parable causes no introspection.

Some in our midst may be shallow soil. We hear God's word, we initially accept His offer, and then life happens. Perhaps we expect life to be a bed of roses when we first accept God's offer of salvation. Maybe we expect our finances never to be stretched thin, maybe we never expect others to get a leg up on us at work unfairly, maybe we expect God to answer our prayers immediately, maybe we think illnesses will skip over us, or maybe we think all our relationship problems will be solved for us immediately. Whatever the reason, life's cares act like the scorching sun in the parable and burn up the newly germinated plant. The Kingdom work in us dies.

But even Jesus' description of the good soil is not without its difficult questions. Jesus talks about the different yields of the good soil. Some of the good soil produces a yield of 30x, other 60x and still others 100x. All is well and good for us as hearers of Jesus' words when we think that we are good soil, at least initially. But at some point in our walk with the Lord when we read and hear this parable we are forced to examine whether we are 30x, 60x, or 100x soil. We might see ourselves as producing 30x yield trying to avoid real work for the ministry God has placed on our hearts, but maybe we feel God's tug that we should be doing more. Maybe we believe we are 60x soil, and yet we feel His nagging assertion that He has called us to still more work on His behalf.

So often, we as human beings want to take the easy way out. We are so jostled and accosted in life that we need a break from hard work, and make no mistake, ministry is often hard work. We would rather leave the organization of ministries up to others. We might labor faithfully when asked, but we pray like fanatics asking God to make sure we are not asked to help. Maybe we have a particular secular talent that we are loathe to exercise on behalf of Kingdom work. Perhaps we doubt in our abilities to minister effectively in His name. And yet, the parable reminds each of us that the sower and the seed are always the same, it is the soil and how it responds which dictates the yield. Our attitudes, our response will determine the yield of the Kingdom.

What kind of soil are you? Have you, like the worn path, been oblivious to God's call in your life? Or, like the shallow soil, has your response to the seed been choked out by life's cares and concerns? Or, are you good soil? Are you producing the yield to which He has called you? Truthfully, the parable is a difficult one because it forces us to examine our own responses and our own hearts. The glorious news is that His living water can change even the parched wilderness into the 100-fold soil! How will you respond to His seed? If you find yourself resembling the worn path, simply pray for His grace. Ask Him to help your unbelief. If you find yourself resembling the soil that allows only shallow roots, try immersing yourself in His word more often. Often, the more time we spend in pursuit of Him, the deeper our roots go. Join a Christian small group or a Bible Study. If you find yourself resembling the soil with too many weeds, find a Christian mentor who can help you understand better the priorities of God's economy. Yes, the bills and career and relationships are serious business, but all pale in comparison to eternal life in His kingdom. And if, upon reflection, you discern you are not producing the yield to which He has called you, pray for the strength, boldness or whatever needed that you might step out in faith to accomplish His purpose!

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