(…continued) Now so far, this is easy enough. Jesus tells the parable and then explains it. But what Jesus doesn’t do and what is not explained in the text is how this works, and what you and I are supposed to do about it. The illustration of the different types of ground is useful in describing the different reactions to God’s Word, but what does that mean for us? Are different kinds of people like different kinds of ground and that’s that? So if my heart is hard like the hard soil, then that’s what I am and I am out of luck? Or, am I supposed to try and become like good soil? The ground cannot change itself, can I change myself? Can people change? I have wondered about that as I have talked to some people who are so dead set against even hearing about Jesus and what he might mean for their life. Is this a choice they have made or is that how they were made? And what of those who are so receptive, who have always been close to God’s Word, and who seem to find it easy to trust God in good times and in bad? Certainly, they are like the good soil in the parable, receiving the word and giving it ample opportunity to take root and grow. But again, is that the result of choices they made, or were they made that way?
The parable doesn’t help us much with those questions. It doesn’t tell us how this all works. Yet, these questions have to do with the very heart of the Gospel of salvation. We want to know– we must know– ‘how to get it.’ Who does what? These are the kinds of questions raised in this text and many others. And no one text gives us the whole answer. Even knowing what is in the entire Bible leaves us with plenty to wonder about. We do have to remember here that we are dealing with a book about God, and so we might well expect that complete understanding will always be a bit beyond us. But we can say a couple things.
First of all, the growth of faith is like the growth of the seed in the soil. It is God’s work. Farmers now have far more sophisticated ways of planting seeds than just throwing them around all over the place. But once that seed is in the soil, they still do have to depend on God, just like that ancient sower. And, given adequate sun and rain, those seeds will sprout and grow every time, without the farmer doing anything. A farmer might cultivate or spray or irrigate to enhance that growth, but most of what goes on out in the field after the seeds are planted is up to God. So it is with faith. The catechism says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ;” but, then goes on to say, “The Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts and sanctifies and preserves me in the one true faith.” God takes care of our faith and our growth in that faith. That’s how it works. Just like the growth in the fields.
But there is more. In each of the verses describing the four types of responses to the Word of God, there is one word, one verb, that describes our part, that describes what we do. The word is hear. In each verse, even among those responses that are not very good, it is implied that at least the person hears the word of God. In the first three responses, they just hear it for a short time, and then they fall away and leave it. Only in the last one do they keep on hearing and receiving; and then, end result is good. So there is indeed something we must do. We must simply hear God’s word. That is how it works. Romans 10:17 puts it just that plain and simple. “Faith comes by hearing,” it says. Jesus once said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.” That verse contains both a command and a promise, all in the same sentence. It is easy– all we need to do is hear Jesus calling, and he takes care of the rest. But we do need to do that. We do need to hear Jesus. We do need to be listening for him and to him. One place we do that is in the worship service. Of course there are other ways, but this happens most often for most people, in the Sunday morning worship service at church.
In my ministry I have run across only a few people who absolutely did not believe in God at all. But I have seen many who are like the people described in the parable. They have some faith, at least the beginnings of it, but give little time to the tending of that faith. And the message of the parable is that faith which is not given the chance to grow, will die by a lack of understanding, a lack of attention, or a lack of depth. The Bible says we are saved by faith. We must give that faith every opportunity to live and grow. We do that by hearing God’s Word.
So, what kind of soil are you? The best answer to that question is to see all of the types of soil in each of us. Our response to God is not a simple thing. On some levels you may be very responsive. You may be at worship every week, and by doing so you show yourself to be at least somewhat like the good soil. But there are also those parts of God’s Word that even the strongest believers will continue to resist. None us can look at the descriptions of the bad soils and say that we have never been troubled by any of those things. For some, it might be the command to forgive; for another, it might be Jesus’ words on wealth; for others, it might be what the Bible says about accepting suffering. To use the words of the parable, we all lack perfect understanding, we all have our worries, there are those ways that we all deceive ourselves, and we all have become discouraged in times of trouble.
Jesus words of warning apply to all of us; but so do his words of promise and blessing. We need to keep in touch and keep on listening, and trust in God to provide the growth.
Romans 10:17 — Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
John 10:27 — (Jesus said), “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
Luke 8:15 — The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
“Lord, Let My Heart Be Good Soil”
Hymn by Handt Hanson, 1985
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
open to the seed of your Word.
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
where love can grow and peace is understood.
When my heart is hard,
break the stone away.
When my heart is cold,
warm it with the day.
When my heart is lost,
lead me on your way.
Lord, let my heart,
Lord, let my heart,
Lord, let my heart be good soil.