Today’s reading can be both difficult and frustrating. In 4:12, Jesus seems to say that he purposely makes his message hard to understand so that “outsiders” won’t get it. Then he moves into a series of parables that can leave us scratching our heads and wondering if perhaps we are on the outside! It’s important to note, though, that the distinction between insiders and outsiders is not that insiders get it and outsiders don’t. After giving the parable of the sower, the twelve and others ask Jesus for an interpretation. It seems that no one understood straight away! In this light, the true distinction between insiders and outsiders lies in the tenacity of the listener. Those who pressed forward, asking for understanding received it. At the same time, we also stand in the mystery of why some find Jesus compelling enough to pursue, while others do not. For this question, I am content to embrace mystery.
Looking to the parable of the sower and its interpretation, we see Jesus describing four different kinds of soil or kinds of persons. The first does not receive the seed of the word. Instead, the seed is stolen away by Satan. The second does receive the seed, but only shallowly and superficially. In the noon time heat of persecution, the seed withers away. The third receives the seed more deeply but is beset by obstacles to growth. Ultimately, the thorns of care, desire for wealth, and other desires choke the seed. And then there is the fourth. This soil/person receives the seed and produces a crop. In hearing this parable, we are invited to consider the soil of our own lives. Where do we fall on the spectrum? Though we may wish to rush to the fourth option, I would encourage that we take a moment to consider the others, perhaps especially the seed among thorns. Our culture encourages the pursuit of wealth and other desires. Though these are not bad in and of themselves, might they be choking the crop that God desires in our lives? As we consider these questions, we can pray that God will make the soil of our hearts more fertile for the journey ahead.
I would also encourage that we be careful of labeling others negatively with this parable. Ultimately, it can be argued that the twelve were not representative of good soil. After all, they all to a man desert Jesus when he is arrested by the authorities. Peter goes on to deny Jesus three times. All of this sounds much more like the seed on rocky ground. Yet the twelve will go on to stand for Jesus and do great things for the kingdom. They will produce an amazing crop, indeed! This should give us both hope for ourselves when we feel like less than the good soil and pause before we label others negatively. No one is beyond hope, and we do not know how God may be working.
Looking back to our own lives, perhaps we can consider our intentions as disciples. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is a prayer of cosmic proportions as we ask that God’s kingdom may come perfectly to this world, but it is also a very personal prayer as we invite God’s kingdom and will into our own lives and spheres of influence. In my mind, the heart that prays this prayer and means it represents good soil, for it seeks actively to accept the seed of the word. Maybe a place to start as we consider the parable of the sower is to pray this prayer and then seek to live it out. In doing so, we welcome the kingdom into our lives.