What kind of soil or what kind of sower?

July 12, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and at there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew upand chocked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, and the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thrity.”

You know what people love to do?

We love to learn more about ourselves. We are so curious about ourselves that we spend a lot of time and sometimes money to find out what kind of person we truly are. And often times our self-curiosity and self-discovery are satisfied through personality tests, such as Myers-Brigg, Enneagram, DISC, 5 Love Languages, StrengthFinders, horoscopes, or even those poor but amusing Buzzfeed personality tests. We love to read those descriptions that seem to depict what we are really like and what our strengths and weaknesses are, and with a better self-understanding we strive to be a better person, a better leader, and a better partner.

I really think this is in our innate nature; so, we cannot help but to want to learn more about ourselves through those descriptions and those categories. And we also do the same when we read the Bible, especially the parables. We plug ourselves into various descriptions and characters Jesus introduces for his teachings on the Kingdom of heaven (vv. 10-11).

So, when I first read Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Sower in preparation for today’s message, I automatically thought about what kind of soil I am, and what kind of soil we are as a church, as a denomination, and as a nation.

See, Jesus introduces four types of soil.

The first type of soil is the path.

The path prevents seeds from being planted in the ground. It is easy for birds to just snatch those seeds off the path. And this alludes to our closed hearts. When our hearts are closed, we cannot understand the word of the kingdom, and the word of the kingdom is utterly exposed for the evil one to come and snatch it away.

The second type is the rocky ground.

The rocky ground does not have much soil. When the seeds are sown, the plants spring up quickly, yet they also wither away quickly once the sun rises. This describes our rocky hearts with no depth. We quickly hear and receive the word with joy; but since there is no depth, our shallow hearts are not capable of growing deep roots. We are quick to celebrate God’s word when life is easy, and yet we are just as quick to denounce God’s existence when hardships arise.

The third type of soil is full of thorns.

The thorns grow intertwined with the plants, perhaps at a much faster rate, robbing the space and nutrients the plants need to grow and survive. Thus, the thorns ultimately choke the plants, making the plants difficult to breathe, robbing their lives. These thorns describe the cares of the world and the lure of wealth. The cares of the world, or the worldly cares, are driven by the mindset of scarcity or “not having enough.” And worldly cares are often coupled with “the deceitfulness of riches” (ESV), the desire of “getting more and wanting everything under the sun” (The Message). So, the thorns essentially represent wealth and it is wealth that chokes the life out of the seed that has been planted in our hearts. Wealth presses against and sucks out our imaginations of the kingdom of heaven. Even with the understanding of the word of the kingdom, it is wealth that prevents us from bearing fruits and harvesting.

The fourth type of soil is the good soil.

And it is in the good soil that seeds may fall and bring forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. This good soil alludes to the good hearts that not only listen and understand the word of God, but also bear fruits and yields, whether a hundredfold, sixtyfold, or thirtyfold. The good soil produces different results; the numbers may vary, just as the fruits of the Spirit and the spiritual gifts vary. The concern is not which good soil produces more and which good soil produces what. The concern is whether the soil itself is good to bear fruits and yields.

So, we have four categories of soil. And it is obvious that the soils describe the various conditions of our hearts. But I want to ask, is the point of today’s parable figuring out what kind of soil we are? To realize whether we are the good soil or not, whether our churches have good soils or not? To think about what happens once we find out whether we are rocky soil or good soil? To find out how soil change its condition and fertility on its own? To wrestle with what it takes for a covered path to become good soil? Or what it takes for soil to remove the thorns around it?

("The Parable of the Sower" - Rebecca Brogan)

John Chrysostom, one of the Early Church Fathers, says that “those who would explain the parable must not do so literally, for such an approach can lead only to absurdities.”

Again, the parables are parables, a simple story to illustrate what God’s kingdom is like. The parables do not explain the intricacies of our relationship with God in today’s world. And the parables are not about us. Rather, Jesus is teaching through the parables to show the mysteries of God’s kingdom.  

So, instead of asking ourselves which soil we are, let’s think on this one question:

“What is so mysterious about today’s parable?”

The sower is sowing seeds in all four soils. God is planting the word in all four hearts. The condition of the four soils are visible to the eyes of the sower. One is barricaded. One is covered with rocks. One is coveredwith thorns. And one is good. The Sower could just ignore the three and focus on one, which is more efficient. But for some reason, the seeds “fall” on all four soils. The word of the kingdom is given to all four hearts, regardless of their conditions.

Isn’t that mysterious?

Isn’t that the good news?

("The Sower" by Vincent van Gogh)

When asked about why people are obsessed with personality tests, Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and faculty at Fielding Graduate University, explains among a few reasons: “In spite of the relative sophistication of society today, people remain a mystery to themselves as well as others—and they are always curious toget a bit of insight as to what they’re really like… Also, people like confirmation of their qualities, particularly strengths. In spite of frivolity, we all have an existential craving to be validated and ‘seen.’”

The truth is all of us are way too mysterious to be labeled as one particular personality, one particular Disney princess, and one particular soil. Because we are created in the image of God, the image of the One who cannot be fully described, who cannot be fully explained, who cannot be fully perceived.

And this mysterious God is also the One who sees us, who sees even our most difficult conditions and our unfortunate situations, and yet still drops the seeds on us no matter what, because God so loves us and validates us as God’s beloved children. Today’s parable isn’t so much about what kind of soil we are but more so about what kind of sower God is.

So, the seeds are dropped on us again today, as they always have been. And I pray that we would not only listen to the words, but would also allow the words to grow deep into our hearts, while always being cautious of the thorns of wealth, so that our hearts may bear fruits—fruits to be shared and enjoyed with God, with one another, and with our neighbors.  

Amen.