‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.’ (Luke 8:5 – 8)
Jesus had begun a more concerted preaching tour of Galilee. In every town, disfiguring harm and suffering (even those beyond any human remedy) was alleviated. Consciences, hitherto indifferent to shallow-buried guilt, were roused from apathy to recognise the wretched depraving power of sin’s unyielding vice-like grip. Yet, even as the storm-clouds of divine judgment were summoned by His voice threatening a sudden outbreak of retribution for concealed past wrongs, light-shafts of divine mercy shone through to reassure the genuinely penitent of eternal forgiveness and God’s empowerment to change.
Critical onlookers wondered how even the most notorious offenders could find amnesty without incurring so much as the cost of a journey to Jerusalem’s temple. Yet, the gifted young Rabbi assured His hearers that He had the cost of forgiveness covered. They could only wonder at what He meant.
His following comprised the Twelve with many ordinary folk joining the throng. Yet, as the vast crowds awaited another miracle, it was to His disciples that the parable’s significance was explained. The explanation was an unveiling of the subtle out-working of God’s final judgement and redemption in the choice of our daily lives. In each environment other than the good soil (the path, the rocky ground, and the thorns), the productive impact of God’s message is eventually thwarted.
The path in the parable is unyielding prejudice. The counter-arguments against the authenticity and validity of Christ's words are rehearsed by opponents of conversion until considered self-satisfyingly 'water-tight'. The heart is the overarching purpose that informs our decision-making. If that purpose is bent on worldly priorities without regard restrictions imposed by God, we are incapable of giving a fair hearing to His insight for us. Such a mind can trample on the seed before it can germinate into behavioural change.
Instead, we can barricade our minds in; the counter-arguments all sharing one ulterior motive: to thwart and diminish any sense of accountability to the Supreme Being. The aim is not just to demolish the so-called ‘holy roller’ with a clever retort. It is to walk away feeling comprehensively absolved with no need for penitent accountability for recurring moral failures.
The rocky ground represents the superficially receptive hearer. We can actually embrace the promise of eternal reward in Christ for a while with thoughtless abandon, all the while oblivious to sheer single-minded all-consuming passion needed to sustain us in our race towards heaven. The sort of moral determination that was exhibited by the apostles can only be sustained by facing up to the need (and asking) for daily empowerment to make that stark choice of love for God over the peer pressure and social contempt that seek to undermine His priorities and prohibitions for us.
The thorny ground represents a hearer with competing worldly priorities. The impetus for change is thwarted by a mindset already committed to earthly self-preservation, comfort and advancement. As scripture puts it, ‘An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways’ (James 1:8)
Finally, the good soil is a mindset that embeds and applies God’s message with a wholehearted life-long progression to ever-greater commitment to God. This is what Paul means when he insists: 'Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.' (Col. 3:16)
This goes beyond the superficial happiness gained from outward prosperity. Even while shackled in a Philippian jail (Acts 16:25), Paul and Silas joyfully sang with the anticipation of Christ's everlasting victory expressed in the Psalms. In like manner, we should extol God’s great work of our eternal after-life security 'above all else' and in every trial.
The reality is that all Christian hearts require major cultivation, if they are to become good soil. Though our affections are divided, we are constantly challenged to uproot our worldly concerns, priorities and the fear that the godless might retaliate by depriving us of physical and emotional comfort. We are constantly challenged to abandon self-promoting charity displays and religious rituals for a daily unassuming commitment to advance the betterment of others and God's authority over human consciences.
The only way for God to cultivate good soil from a heart that lacks motivation for major change (and full of distracting excuses) is to take a hard spade to it. However much easier it is to remain untilled ground, I trust the Lord to accomplish it in me as promised, whatever the cost. He says, 'I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh' (Ezekiel 11:19)
After all, God, in spite of A FAILING ‘me’, is still at work IN SAVING me. As with the Jewish exiles, humbled by deportation to Babylon, yet returning to Jerusalem, that pretty much sums up our salvation!