When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a mad scientist, mixing up different colored potions to unlock the mysteries of the universe. I guess my son Charlie must have gotten my genes because lately he’s wanted to know all about chemicals. Of course, the fun part about chemistry isn’t all the technical stuff – it’s to see how chemicals react.
In Luke 8, Jesus Christ challenges you to consider perhaps the most important reaction between 2 things that you could ever ponder: the reaction between the Word of God, which brings life, and your eternal soul. This morning, Jesus asks you to consider what kind of soil you have been – and how you have responded to the Word of God in your life.
In Jesus’ parable, God Himself is the sower, the one who sows the seed. The Word of God is the seed itself – the seed by which God’s presence comes to us. This seed contains the germ of eternal life – it is a living thing because it is the voice of God calling each of us to Himself. But it will only grow in proper soil. And it is the soil that most interests Jesus in His parable. He is interested in the condition of your soil, the condition of your soul.
He asks you this morning to carefully and honestly consider what kind of soil you have been.
As we listen to the teaching of our Lord, it is important to remember that the kind of soil you are can be changed – otherwise His teaching would be fatalistic and offer no hope but only a terrible description. By turning from God, good soil can be made bad. But by turning to God, the creator of the soil as well as the seed, bad soil can be made good and fruitful
Some seed fell by the wayside, which is not even really soil. The seed that falls by the wayside will not grow at all because the soil is so compact and is constantly being stamped down. The birds of the air will snatch it away because it cannot even be buried to grow. This kind of soil is the people who refuse to hear the Word of God at all. It’s less likely to be people who go to church regularly (though it could be). Some people grow up going to church or attend for years but may never have really opened their heart to the Word of God. They have either actively rejected the Word of God or passively ignored it.
The Word of God will not survive in such soil, but will die. In human terms, such a person who has rejected the Word of God – and therefore has rejected God Himself – will also die and not see eternal life. Only if there is a change of soil – a change of heart – is there hope.
The rocky soil is soil that has a thin layer of dirt over rock. Every seed has stored food in its seed leaves which are called cotyledons. That’s what we’re eating when we eat peanuts or peas or lima beans.
So the seed can grow up quickly by itself, but it needs healthy soil from which to obtain the rest of the nutrients. If the roots cannot grow – because the soil is superficial – then the plant cannot develop to the point that it can support the life of the plant. Eventually, the plant will die.
This kind of soil is those who hear and receive Word with joy when they first hear it, but they fall away with temptation (of which there are always many). They’ve heard the Word of God, but then times get tough and they haven’t let God work deeply enough in them. Or it’s like a marriage in which the exuberant joy of the honeymoon is over and the couple are now disappointed when every day isn’t like the first day they heard the Good News.
Such a person – if he allows his condition to continue – will, in time, die, just as the seed on the wayside. It’s possible that some of you may be in this condition. I’ve known a lot of Christians who are the rocky soil, and they need the grace of God as it comes through you and me. You yourself may have had a time in the past when you first heard the Word of God and you rejoiced. But then over the years – maybe even for reasons you don’t remember or understand – you just seemed to drift away.
Such people – if they continue to fall away – will die apart from God. And yet there is hope for this kind of soil, for this kind of people. If they turn back to God, He can break up the rocks that prevent their roots from going deep. Such people, if they truly seek God, can develop more roots.
But they will require moisture and nourishment, and fertilizing and weeding. They must seek God in the Church, in prayer, in Christian fellowship, and we must go out and meet and encourage them, for they are part of us.
In the thorny soil, the seed indeed begins to grow and survives past infancy. But over time, the plant begins to be choked out by thorns. The plant continues to live, but each year it becomes less and less healthy, and it will not bear the fruit that such a plant should produce. These are those who have truly received the Word of God, but it is choked out by cares of this world, by riches, and by pleasures.
It is with good reason that elsewhere Jesus said that you cannot serve both God and Mammon. There is a competition between God and the world in such a person, and the things of this world, like an addiction, begin to assert more and more power over the person. By the end of a period of years that person, often without realizing it, has begun to serve and desire something in his or her life above God.
It may have started innocently enough. It may have been, for example, that a man desires to provide well for his family or wants to avoid the poverty or deprivation his parents faced. But he finds himself over the years focusing so much on the job and its income that he becomes blind to other things – God, the church, perhaps even the family he has worked so hard to provide for. He finds himself enjoying more and more the fruits of his labor and thinks more and more of the good things he can get for himself. At some point, He begins to forget that it is God who has given Him these good things, and He begins to think He can practically do without God at all, even though he would never deny that God was real.
I’m not suggesting for one minute that this is the way it has to be or that in receiving the good things of this world with thankfulness and humility we will necessarily all be led astray. But the constant warning of the Jesus Christ is to beware that riches or any of the good things of this world don’t lead us into temptation or evil.
Such a person, ultimately, brings no fruit to maturity. He himself may survive until the end but with no fruit. Or he may die a slow death. This is one of most common soils I’ve seen. It’s all too easy for us be enticed by living in the most prosperous nation that has ever existed. Christians fit in too easily into our culture and buy into all it means to be in America in the 21st century – for good and for bad.
To some degree, we are all being choked by the things of this world, and God is calling us to give them up so that we have life and have it more abundantly.
There is one more soil – the good soil, the soil that is the way soil was created to be. It is the soil in which things grow and produce an abundant harvest of more fruit. Such people are those who truly fulfill God’s first commandment to be fruitful and multiply, for they take the Word of God, eat it, grow strong, live by it, and go feed others and teach them to do the same.
What makes the good soil “good”? 3 things. Those who are good soil listen to the Word. They have noble hearts and good hearts. They have an initial faithful response to God.
Second, they keep the Word and meditate on it day and night and keep it in their minds and hearts. These are those who have discovered the mystery of patience, that like the growth of a plant the growth of a Christian is gradual and requires work and cultivation. They have a continual, progressive response to God.
They act on the Word when they hear it. What is taken in becomes a part of the plant or person and then comes back out so that they bear fruit. Their initial and continual growth leads to perpetual growth in God’s garden.
I’ve been privileged to see this very response of faith, this good soil, in many Christians.
God is calling you this morning, He is calling you by His Word. He desires to see how you will respond, not just for a moment but for a lifetime. The way to become or remain good soil is the same for all 4 kinds of soil. Soil by itself is inert – it can’t change itself and it needs someone to nourish it. The soil of the human heart must seek God. You must go to the source of life Himself.
Whether you are on they wayside, or are rocky, or thorny – you must turn from yourself and turn to God. Find out what it is in your life that prevents you from hearing and responding to the call of God on your life. If you are the good soil, then you must continue the way you began and not trust in self. As St. Augustine said: “When God is the sower, and we are the ground, we are called to work to be good ground.”
May we all ask God for His grace to help us to be good ground.
Prayer: Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth, I beg You to pour forth Your blessing upon the soil which is my life and make me a fruitful plant in Your garden. As You have planted Your Word in my life, may You also prepare the soil of my heart to receive You once again that in You I might have life and have it more abundantly.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to meditate on which kind of soil I am most like. I further resolve to find one way in which God wants me to act, based on which kind of soil I currently am.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day