When I hear people talking about the stories Jesus told, I listen. I’ve spent the last few years focused on them. Yes, I’ve studied them, read lots of commentaries and sermons, delighted in contemplating them and written 2 books about them…but the true joy for me is simply immersing myself in these stories. These stories are my birthright (and yours) as a beloved child of the King. They describe His life and must define mine.
He told the crowd the story of dirt times four:
– The seed that landed on hard-trod dirt paths would never germinate. It would be pulverized by feet on their way to other places; it would become tasty bird food.
– The seed that landed on cool, moist rock would sprout feathery roots and a baby stem in the warm sun. That sun would then proceed to bake the tiny plant dry.
– The seed that landed in weedy, thorn-filled soil would be like a ballerina in a cage match, beaten senseless with sharp jabs before she was choked to death.
– The seed that landed on rich, loamy soil would grow and multiply until the black earth was transformed into an emerald ocean ready for the harvest.
It was obvious that only seed sown on good soil would become a part of a harvest. Some of Jesus’ hearers may have questioned that part in His story about a yield from that good field of thirty, sixty or a hundred times, when the best any of them could ever dream of was a yield maybe six or seven times greater than what they’d planted.
The religious teachers of Jesus’ day would sometimes explain that they were sowing truth into the lives of the faithful. But those teachers knew that the most they could hope for was a one-for-one return on their teaching in the form of a committed person becoming yet more committed to a religious lifestyle. If anyone listening to Jesus’ story that day had a glimmer of imagination that this stuff about a hundred-fold return might be referencing something other than agriculture, the absurd percentages Jesus used when talking about the good soil’s yield probably vanquished that thought.
His story sounded like today’s farm report…except for the way Jesus ended it. He didn’t say “good night, and good news” or “…and that’s the way it is” or “over and out”.
It was the perplexing “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”. English doesn’t quite capture the imperative urgency found in the original language. “You listening to me? Then do what I say!” is how that phrase might sound today. Author Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way: “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”
If change was hopeless, then why did He tell His listeners to hear Him loud and clear? Dirt, after all, just lays there. It can’t change on its own. If it is concrete hard, it isn’t going to undertake an aerobic program to aerate itself. If it is rock, it is permanent and immovable. Dirt choked with thorns will never become self-weeding.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus was telling them that true understanding translated into real obedience. Obedience to the Word of God was a combination plow – fertilizer – weed killer that could transform barren lives of trampled ground, rock and thorn-choked soil into lives that were characterized by supernatural abundance.
Later, alone with His disciples, Jesus explained the meaning of this story first by telling them that they indeed had ears to hear. The seed is the word of God, He said. Sown extravagantly, He knew that much of His precious word was going to land in the lives of those who weren’t prepared to receive it:
– Hearing the word of God, obeying Him, can be aborted by the devil before His life is fully birthed in some people’s lives.
– Obedience can be rooted in pure emotion for others, producing good times and spiritual goose bumps, but withers when the rosy glow is roasted away in the heat of a trial.
– Money and sensual pleasure and worry drain the life out of a life once committed to obeying God.
A glorious “but” came at the end of His explanation. “But 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” (Luke 8:15). Soil is productive both because it is a hospitable environment for the seed and because it can sustain growth through to harvest time.
Though Jesus’ story ends with the finality of the way the four kinds of soil will be evaluated at the end-of-all-things harvest, there is a preamble to this parable.
Watch the Sower’s labor of love in the story and you’ll see what I mean.