the parable of the sower

posted on 2013-01-24

In Mark 4, Jesus tells the classic parable of the sower:

Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

My greatest temptation as a Christian is to try to take responsibility for God’s work. I want to feel like I am the one sowing the seeds and growing the fruit. I feel especially tempted to think this way after reading Jesus tell his followers in the sermon on the mount to judge a tree by its fruit. I feel like I should only focus on the fruit.

That’s why I find this parable particularly convicting. Jesus tells us that our focus should just be on our own soil. God’s rain and sun grows the plant, not me. Then God’s sower and wind scatter the seeds, not me. All I can do—the absolute only thing within my power—is to make my soil available for God. To remove the rocks and the weeds and give it good nutrients. I don’t like this because I feel like I should be doing more. I feel like God needs my help to sow seeds and make plants grow, when this is just patently absurd! When I try to do this, I just get in the way, then end up neglecting caring for my own soil.

Also, it’s extra cool that soil and soul sound so close in English.