The Good Soil
By Mike Powers
(Delivered at Scottish Rite, July 16, 2017)
In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the big stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is telling a parable which also speaks of obstacles that lay in people’s paths that if removed would lead to the discovery of a great treasure.
The parable that Jesus tells is that of the sower. This would seem to be a very identifiable story to be studying here in an agricultural state such as Iowa. One notable difference between the sower that Jesus tells about and the Iowa farmer is that here in Iowa farmers are very selective how they sow their seed using GPS technology and other science to place the seed in the soil where the chances of it growing into a bountiful crop are good. In the parable, the sower is spreading seeds somewhat indiscriminately and the seeds are falling on various types of soil.
Jesus describes four different types of ground upon which the sower’s seed is falling. We can see these four different kinds of soil symbolizing four different states of health for our souls.
The seed that falls on the hardened path never has a chance to sprout and more than likely just becomes bird seed. The path poses an impenetrable barrier to the seed just as some people stand behind barriers which are impenetrable to God’s word. How does this happen?
It could be a situation where a person refuses to admit even the possibility of God existing. They believe that nothing exists outside of what can be explained in the physical universe. We heard today Paul write in his letter to the Romans that “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit[e] set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5-6 NRSV)
The flesh refers to life as we know it now, the things that we can see, touch, taste, feel and smell. Those things are real but pertain to a life with a limited shelf life. They come with an expiration date. The physical world, or the world of the flesh as Paul describes it, is but a prelude to a much greater reality which is the eternal, ever-lasting world of the kingdom of which Jesus has provided us an entryway.
Other people, with this hardened barrier between themselves and God, may have had a relationship with God at one time but then turned away. Perhaps they felt either God had betrayed them or left prayers unanswered. Perhaps they see tragedy in life, man’s inhumanity to man, and question how there could be a God if such things are allowed to occur. We have all probably thought about things like that at one point or another. I know I have.
But one of the really wonderful things about life is that God gave each of us a free will which can be exercised for good or for bad. We each have the choice. Unfortunately, when a bad choice is made, whether intentional or not, often-times another person is hurt. I think this is why Jesus made such a big point in his ministry that we need to love each other and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
As far as prayers left unanswered, we need to trust that God has our best interest at heart. We are not privy to His overall plan. God’s plan is beyond our ability to comprehend but with faith and God’s grace we know it will lead to everlasting salvation.
The seed that falls on the stony ground does sprout but because the ground is so hard, it never gets a chance to set down roots and the plant does not survive. This symbolizes people who hear the Word of God, acknowledge the truth of it but do not incorporate it into their daily lives. With true faith we are motivated by our love of God to act as servants to each other, helping each other as we can, using our talents to serve as God’s instruments. Faith will lead us to the desire to shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, care for the sick, comfort those in despair. A deeply rooted faith leads to action and growth in a spiritual connectedness with God that is marked by love for both God and neighbor.
The seed that falls in the thorns, takes root but is soon choked by other competing weeds and thorny plants and also fails to thrive. In this case, people hear the word of God but are distracted by competing priorities. They may place an emphasis on accumulating material wealth or power.
No matter how one keeps score in life, whether it be the amount of money one has, or power or fame, devoting one’s life to such temporal goals is a short-term play at best that does not extend beyond our earthly lives.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus summed it up well when he spoke of the consequences of prioritizing earthly things over a relationship with God by saying “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-20 NRSV)
The seed that falls into the good earth, the rich soil that is conducive to growing, represents people who are receptive to the word and who embrace the word and make it part of their lives. Paul would say that these people are not governed by the law of the flesh but rather the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which will free them from the law of sin and death. These people will serve to spread new seeds and multiply those receiving the Word many times over.
So each of us should probably ask, “What kind of “soil” are we?” Answering that question can only come from and honest and frank self-assessment.
Just as we are all individuals, we all experience God in different ways. To be clear, God is present always and everywhere. He is our constant companion but we may not be tuned into Him. However, there are those special times when we may have an acute sense that God is affecting our lives.
Some people may sense God’s presence when they feel a sudden urge to help others through acts of human kindness with no expectation of repayment.
Some people sense God’s presence when a feeling of inner peace sweeps through them at a time when confronted with making a difficult decision or facing a formidable challenge?
Some people sense God’s presence through a warming in their hearts when seeing a smile on the face of a child or the touch of a loved one.
Some people sense God’s presence moving them to seek forgiveness when wrong and to grant forgiveness when wronged.
Some people sense God’s presence in pulling, pushing, nudging or otherwise guiding them towards a role that God is calling them to fill?
God has given us each a soul for which we are the caretakers. The parable that Jesus is relating to us in today’s scriptures attributes the characteristics of soil to our own souls. Just as soil holds the possibility of growth and the proliferation of abundant life, our souls are intrinsic to the everlasting life that is possible for all of us to enjoy. Such life is available by learning and living the word that God is sharing with us.
Good farmers realize that the best chance of success for this abundant growth is for the soil to be properly prepared. The boulders need to be rolled away, the rocks removed and the thorns and weeds cleared. As the caretakers of our own souls, we need to make sure that we have prepared ourselves to the extent possible to receive and incorporate the word of God into our daily lives.
I had mentioned earlier that the sower in the parable acted differently than our Iowa farmers. An Iowa farmer would certainly only seek to sow good seed in good earth. The fact that good seed is in limited supply and expensive, the farmer will seek not to waste it by spreading it in places like a hardened path, rocky ground or ground overrun by thorny weeds. The Iowa farmer will only sow this good seed on good ground.
The good news for us is that the good seed or word of God is not in limited supply. And although it is very valuable, it is not expensive but freely provided to all. This means that at times we are shutting ourselves off from God, his Word is still showering down upon us. We just need to open our hearts and tune into that awareness that Paul describes to receive it.
Let each of us commit to clearing paths and making God’s word accessible to ourselves and others. When we do encounter boulders in our path, let’s not act like the merchants and courtiers in our first story where they make no effort to clear the path but instead use that as an excuse to complain about the king. Let’s be more like the peasant who although burdened by a heavy load, spent the time and effort to clear the path and in so doing uncovered a great treasure.
Clearing the obstacles that stand between us and God will enable us to learn more about ourselves and strengthen our faith in God. Doing this will yield its own treasure—that of a purposeful and fulfilling life; and, blessed with God’s grace, the everlasting life thereafter.