The jar was beginning to stink. Germinating alfalfa sprouts on the kitchen window sill usually produce quick and tasty results; a spoonful of seeds kept moist, rinsed daily and drained through a cheesecloth lid can grow into a jarful of crisp green sprouts in four or five days. But this batch had become stunted at only millimetres in length. The feeble sprouts looked like they were better suited for the compost than my sandwich. What had gone wrong?
Jesus observes a similar scenario in chapter thirteen of our survey of the gospel of Matthew. He tells a crowd of listeners a parable about seed being broadcast throughout a farmer’s field. Being a parable, though, means He is presenting a truth about something much deeper and more significant than what appears on the surface. It’s not about farming methods, land use, or profit margins. Jesus is describing a scenario, like my alfalfa-sprout-letdown, where the returns on a planting take a surprising turn. Listen.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).
Did you notice how many different areas of the farmer’s field Jesus describes? There are the pathway areas—heavily trodden and as hard as baked clay; there are the rocky outcrops—uneven surfaces thinly covered with topsoil; there are the sections where only a hint of disturbance in the soil is apparent at seed-planting but where thorny perennials dominate and drain the soil’s nutrients. We are beginning to feel sorry for the farmer whose field, it seems, is less than ideal for a harvest. Finally, though, Jesus describes an area of good soil—where seeds germinate, grow, reach their full potential as plants, and produce a crop up to a hundred times greater than the seed from which they grew.
Did you feel the tension ease as the farmer finally gets a return for all his hard work? There is something fulfilling, a sense of justice satisfied, a strain relieved, when some seed accomplishes what it was designed to do. Seeds are supposed to grow.
What is Jesus really describing in this parable, this mini-story that is meant to cause people to think about some core realities of life? That’s exactly what His disciples asked Jesus after He had told them the parable.
Jesus explained that soil is a metaphor for a person’s heart of hearts—the inner core of a person that is either open to God or puts up barriers between itself and God; Jesus describes hearts with barriers against God as being hardened, shallow, and distracted. He pictures hearts open to God as a rich and healthy environment for growth. The seed is the message of God’s kingdom revealed by the Word of God. The core of the seed (it’s germ) is the assertion that all people are separated from their Creator by sin, but that Jesus Himself is our Redeemer—the Giver of the second chance. For the seed to both germinate and grow to maturity, individuals must accept the message of the seed and entrust themselves daily to God. They must allow God to cultivate their heart to free them from hardness of heart, shallowness of purpose, and distraction by things of lesser value. True and lasting personal growth can only happen this way.
And why had my alfalfa sprout project aborted? I had inadvertently placed the seed-filled jar in a way that blocked any air from entering or leaving the jar. In the same way, unless we allow the Spirit of God to blow truth into our lives our faith will become stunted and we will lose the crisp, fresh texture of a life being changed by God.
Our take-home thought is Jesus’ recommendation at the end of His parable. Remember it? He counsels, “He who has ears, let him hear.” We’ve been given ears. We ought to use them to really hear what Jesus has explained. Do we want to grow and flourish as humans?—then attend to the issue Jesus has described. If not, we ought not to be surprised seeing our lives gradually deteriorating, shriveling, becoming stunted and frustrated. The time for planting and growing is at hand.
(Photo Credit: [Rainer Zenz.File:Gartenkresse.jpg|Gartenkresse]