The Symbolic Story of Sundry Soils; or, The Practical Parable of the Profligate Planter

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

As I have mentioned before, I am a fan of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason mysteries. More often than not, Gardner gave his novels a catchy, alliterative title. Here are a few choice examples: The Case of the Perjured Parrot, The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe, and last but not least, The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink. Well, if Erle Stanley Gardner had written today’s Parable of the Sower, he might have been hard-pressed to decide whether to call it “The Symbolic Story of Sundry Soils” or “The Practical Parable of the Profligate Planter.” For each title gives a different insight into the meaning of the parable.

The Sower, Jean-François Millet,  1850Let’s start with “The Symbolic Story of Sundry Soils.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus does something he rarely does—he explains a parable! The sower is Jesus himself, spreading the Word of the Kingdom of God. And one point of the parable is to explain the disappointing rejection of the Good News by so many people. Jesus explains that the rejection of the Gospel has everything to do with the condition of the soil, which allegorically represents the mindset of those who hear his message.

Jesus enumerates four distinct kinds of soil, four distinct mindsets. First, there are those who don’t take in what he is trying to tell them. Now, he doesn’t mean that they literally can’t understand his speech. He means that they don’t take his message to heart. It goes in one ear and out the other!

The second mindset is that of people who joyfully receive Jesus’ teaching, at least at first, but then abandon the faith when faced with hardship or persecution.

The third mindset is that of people who hear the Gospel, and even accept it, but then are so distracted by everyday worries that nothing actually comes of their faith. Jesus is talking here about those who put the Gospel on the back burner in their lives. Because of their anxiety, they give first priority to the comfort and security that money promises to provide. Since their primary focus is on their own physical wellbeing, such people are unable to make the sacrifices necessary to bear spiritual fruit.

the-sower-sower-with-setting-sun-1888large

Finally, we get to the fourth and final mindset: the mindset of those who hear the Good News, take it to heart, make it the core of their being, and then work tirelessly to live out their faith. These are the people who freely share their experience of God’s love by word and by deed. These are the ones who produce an abundance of spiritual fruit.

Now, the question that cries out to be asked is this: what kind of soil are we? What mindset do we bring with us when we receive the Good News of Jesus Christ? I’ve asked myself that very same question. And the honest answer is that I don’t fall neatly into any one of the four categories that Jesus enumerates. There are times when I don’t take the Gospel to heart. For example, I have a hard time ranking mercy above justice. (And yet, if God put justice first, we would all be condemned!) I can’t say that I’ve ever abandoned the faith in times of trouble. But I do wonder if I could endure the persecution that Christians experience every day in some parts of the world. I certainly have been guilty of mindset number 3: letting worry and distraction and the love of creature comforts take top priority. I’m a worrier by nature, and it’s hard for me to trust that God will provide. And yet, sometimes I have also found myself in that fourth mindset, the mindset of the true disciple. If I hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t be a Christian priest.

But what about you? What kind of soil are you for the seed of the Gospel? And if you aren’t the most fertile soil, what are you going to do about it? How might you transform yourself into a more fruitful matrix for God’s Word? These are the hard questions that we all need to ask ourselves if we would be disciples of Jesus. And with that sagacious statement, I cease my scriptural scrutiny of “The Symbolic Story of Sundry Soils.”

the-sowerNow, let’s turn to the alternate title for today’s Gospel story, “The Practical Parable of the Profligate Planter.” In its original context, the sower of the seed represents Jesus himself. But as disciples of Jesus, we too are called to spread the message of the Kingdom of God. We too are called to be planters of God’s Word. What lessons, then, might we learn from the profligate planter of today’s parable?

Well, the first lesson is to be truly profligate, truly extravagant! The farmer in today’s parable scatters seed on all types of ground. He even manages to spread it on the road! No prudent farmer would be so careless and so wasteful. But this farmer sows just about everywhere! Such an approach goes against the advice of many a church growth consultant. They tell us to study the demographics, to narrow the focus audience, and to tailor the message to that particular audience. But that isn’t Jesus’ way. He shares his message with everyone, trusting that those who are willing to hear and ready to understand will respond and will, in turn, produce fruit.

The same applies to us today, I think. We too are called to spread Jesus’ message by word and by deed, without worrying overmuch about how the message will be received. Our job is to keep on scattering the seed. The growing depends on the soil, and on God. So don’t give in to despair when the world refuses to listen to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Just keep living out your faith to the best of your ability. And keep sharing that faith with everyone you encounter. For when the Good News that you spread reaches the right person with the right mindset, a profuse plenitude will proliferate, just as is promised, prophesied, and predicted in “The Practical Parable of the Profligate Planter.”

© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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