Looking at this parable today we're not going to focus on the Sower or the seed but on the soil. The NIV insert, the ESV, and most modern translations don't do that. They translate "this is the seed sown along the path." The NASB and KJV focus on the soil which personifies people. We know this because it's masculine which means it's a person not a thing. So these two translate, "This is the one on whom seed was sown," and, "This is he which received the seed." So there are four kinds of soil. Which one are you?
You have a 3 out of 4 chances of being bad soil according to Jesus. First there is hard packed soil. This type of soil doesn't receive the word at all. It just sits on the outside of you like so much seed upon a hard beaten path. Look above you. See those birds roosting on the rafters? Jesus says they are eager to swoop down from their perch and eat up the word that has bounced off your hard head and heart. The birds in the parable according to Jesus are really the Evil One.
The next kind of soil does receive the Word. The insert calls it "rocky," but it's not soil mixed with rock. It's rock with a thin layer of soil on top of it (BAG). One commentator (Trench, 72) says it's rock covered by mold. I like that. Mold is fertile and it sprouts seed readily. These lichen covered rocks are the people who immediately receive the Word with joy, but that joy isn't rooted in understanding. So when trouble or persecution come because of the Word, they don't "quickly fall away" as the insert translates. No they immediately become offended, stumble, and are lost. Although the Lord promises that persecutions go hand in hand with His Word, shallow Christians who've received it with quick joy drop it just as quickly when the promised troubles arrive.
Then there is the curious thorny soil. This soil too receives the word and even makes a nice plant, but weeds grow faster than good plants and so they take away the sun, water, and nutrients choking it into unfruitfulness. This doesn't startle you but it should. The ancients knew of plants that were eukarpa, i.e. ones that produced edible, useful fruit. And they knew of plants that were akarpa, i.e. ones that produced fruit which was no use to man, but they didn't know of the kind described in our text, akarpos, i.e. not having fruit at all. In nature all plants bear fruit. The only difference is some can be eaten others can't. An unfruitful plant is unheard of (Buls, 28).
The fruit of the Spirit is faith, love, peace, joy, hope, and patience. Do you see this fruit in your life midst the thorns of worries, jealousy, animosity, despair, and irritation? Do you see this fruit in the midst of the thorns of wealth and prosperity that dance before you eyes like specters and you chase after? Isn't that strange? The thorns that do the impossible make people who have received the Word and grow in that Word unfruitful, are opposites. They're pains and pleasures; they're worries and weal. They're lack of mammon and mammon.
I don't know about you but I'm ready for the weed eater. Cut me down and throw me in the fire. I'm one of these three kinds of soil all the time. How about you? You'd better say yes' or you're still hard packed soil that isn't even receiving this Word being preached to you, and get ready to duck because Satan is about to swoop from that rafter and take it away from you again. We all must admit we're poor soil because there's only One who wasn't after the Fall.
Adam and Eve were made by God from dirt into perfect soil, but they fell. So God the Father sent God the Son descending into our dust in order to raise our dust to heaven. Flesh and blood which is no more than dust from dust cannot enter heaven without Him. Try as you might to be good soil, receptive soil, suffering soil, fruitful soil, you remain dirt apart from the God who was not only willing to get dirty for your sakes but to become dirt itself.
And what good dirt Jesus was! Jesus lived life without soiling Himself or others. Think about it. He never soiled Himself with unbelief, misbelief, or other great shame or vice. He never treated His mother like dirt like you have. He never tracked dirt into His stepfather's home the way you have willfully. And O the fruit the soil Jesus produced! Out of this world in beauty, in quantity, in quality.
You've had plants like that in your garden before. They were your pride and joy; your boast and glory. "Look," you'd say to visitors. "See what great tomatoes, cucumbers, or peppers my plant produced." That fear, love and trust of God above all things that's always is withering on your vine was bountiful on Jesus. That chaste heart which your soil can only dirty with perverse thoughts was pristine in Jesus. God the Father could've bragged on God the Son His fruitful Plant.
Yes, you and I are the dirt bags not Jesus, but instead of bragging on Jesus the Father found the Son guilty of all the acts, words, and thoughts you would die of shame if you were convicted of as you should be. Jesus' hands were dirty with the dirt you got from digging around where you aren't supposed to me. His mouth was dirty with the foul things you say. His thoughts were dirty with your filthy lusts. And there's only one place for such a filthy, foul, dirty Person? The Holy God can't but judge, torture, and damn such dirt, but rather than do it to you, He did it to His unsoiled Son.
There are four kinds of soil and three of them are bad. Since the Fall, there is only one good soil, and He works like Medina. If you try to garden in Texas, you'd better know about Medina Soil Activator. It was developed in 1962 in Hondo, Texas. Hondo is about 50 miles west of San Antonio. Not an area known for good soil. Medina was developed to change poor soil, unfruitful soil to good soil. Jesus is like Medina.
There is no good soil on its own. We all are hard as a beaten path upon which the good Word of God just bounces off. We all have no more soil over the rock hard bottom of our hearts than a thin lichen layer of mold. Even when we receive the Word, the thorns of our worries and pleasures choke out any fruit the good Word was going to produce. On our own, this poor soil is only going back to the dust it came from to be blowing in the hot winds of hell for eternity.
But we're not on our own. Our God has not left us so. No, through the Word preached, taught, and read into our ears, Jesus is at work on us like Medina Soil Activator on West Texas dirt. His Word preached, taught, read is the power of the Holy Spirit, so it doesn't stop at our ears. O no, the Spirit uses the Word of the Law to break up our soil. He tosses out the lichen covered rocks, and pulls up the cares and the pleasures that prevent us from being all that our Lord would have us.
You know from gardening that breaking up the ground, tossing out the rocks, and uprooting the thorns doesn't grow squat. Something has to be planted, watered, and fed. The Word of the Gospel is what needs to be planted, watered, and fed in you. The Gospel is that Jesus the perfect soil became dirt in your place. Isaiah says they plowed long furrows on His back, so that our hard packed soil could be broken up. God allowed sinners to take up rocks to stone Jesus, so the Holy Spirit could toss the rocks out of our hearts. God had a crown of thorns jammed on Jesus' head, so we would not be at the mercy of the thorns in this life.
The Gospel Word preached, taught, and read into your ears implants in your heart faith in Jesus' perfect life and innocent death, and faith in Jesus is never alone. Jesus remember is like Medina. He changes poor, dirty, unfruitful soil to good soil. Jesus plants the forgiveness of sins in the soil of our heart. Stop thinking about that sin; it is forgiven. Even if your conscience says it isn't and others agree, Jesus says it is. Jesus waters that faith in the forgiveness of your sins by Holy Baptism. Go to the font; sprinkle its Water activated Word upon that fledging faith of yours. See how it drowns that dirty old man and creates a new creation in the image of Jesus.
But don't stop with Baptism. Jesus would change your soil and nourish your sprouting faith by Communion. You know human flesh and blood are great fertilizers. They can change soil more rapidly than Medina. But they carry communicable diseases, so they shouldn't be used that way. But Jesus' Body and Blood can be. There are legends where drops of Blood from the crucified Jesus hit the ground and beautiful flowers sprang up. But it's no legend that the Body of Jesus didn't decay, so His empty tomb was not filled with the smell of death but of costly ointments and perfumes. We eat His Body and drink His Blood and these produce in our body and blood life, hope, joy, peace, forgiveness, and faith.
This is all well and good and even exciting, but how do I know this message, this Word is being sown into my heart. Do you have ears? Jesus says, "He who has ears, let Him hear." If you have ears, this message is for you no matter what kind of soil you are. No matter how dirty, shallow, or thorny you may be, Jesus is sowing these Words on you, and He wants to and is able to do what you can't do. Jesus can break up your hard heart that is accepting, defending, and keeping your sins. Jesus can pull up those thorny sins that you are not able to. Jesus can give you spiritual depth so that implanted Word will grow, flower, and bear fruit to God's glory and your eternal good.
The road to becoming good soil starts with the Word that is sown here many times each week for anyone who has ears. Though 75% of it is lost to birds, rocks, and thorns, the Sower keeps on sowing and the good soil keeps on receiving it with understanding. Though only 25% of the good Seed grows, matures, and produces, it produces a crop yielding 30, 60, or 100 times as much as was sown. Not a bad yield to bring from dirt. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (20110807); Matthew 13: 18-23