Scripture Readings: Isaiah 55:10–13 | Psalm 65:1–13 | Romans 8:1–11 | Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23
But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
In the early days of the pandemic, especially before things started to open up again, we found ourselves doing a lot more walking around our neighbourhood. As a family, we were already pretty regular walkers, but apparently being stuck in an apartment all day can be a great source of motivation for outdoors time. Anyway…
As the weather got warmer we began to notice that a whole lot of our neighbours were spending their time working on beautifying their yards and gardens; planting all sorts of brightly coloured and pleasant smelling flowers. Walking the same route two or three times a day, we started to really notice their progress… and to appreciate just how much effort was actually being expended. Now, months later the results of their work are beautiful to see, continuing to blessing all those who happen to draw near.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord Jesus Christ also spoke to those gathered around about sowing seeds. But of course, we know much more was on His mind than agricultural.
We heard today one of Christ’s parables: a particular form of story that is more than a simple moral-teaching, or wise words in general, but is actually a way of driving home a specific, but often surprising, point. Parables were one of Christ’s favorite methods of revealing glimpses of God’s Kingdom, inviting His hearers to ponder; to revisit how we think about our everyday world, and our place in it.
Often in the Gospels, Christ’s parables are left unexplained, but in today’s reading, we are actually told the parable’s meaning: highlighting different ways in which God’s word, God’s message, is received… or not… warning us about some of faith’s the biggest obstacles.
Some hear God’s message, we are told, but they do not understand it. It’s life-giving potential does not seem to sink in at all, and so it’s truth is easily snatched away by the enemy. The lack here is clearly comprehension: to receive God’s message faithfully, that message has to be understood.
Others hear God’s message, understand it, and seem to receive it with joy, but for all the outward display of growth, there’s a dangerous lack of depth… and because God’s life-giving message is kept only at the surface of their lives, when faced with troubles or suffering their faith does not endure. The problem here is rootlessness: to receive God’s message faithfully, in ways which can truly endure, that message is meant to grasp hold of the depths of our personhood… of all that we are.
Still others hear God’s message, understand it, and let it take root… but this life-giving message is then crowded out by a host of other concerns. And because it’s not tended and cultivated, God’s message get’s lost in the weeds… unable to bear the kind of fruit it was intended to share. The issue here is one of unclear priorities: to receive God’s message faithfully so that it flourishes, this message requires commitment… and saying no to conflicting messages.
And finally, there are those who faithfully receive God’s message, the Gospel, with understanding, depth, and intentional commitment. Here, we are told we will find good soil for bearing the fruit of God’s kingdom: beyond what we might otherwise expect to be possible.
Probably nothing I have said so far is all that surprising. Jesus Himself already explained all this to His disciples. But here is an important point that we may have easily missed: Jesus didn’t explain this parable to everyone… to the crowds that had gathered hear Him speak. Though it is omitted from our reading today, Matthew mentions that Christ’s explanation of the parable comes sometime later, when His confused disciples beg Him to make it plain for them.
What I want us to see is that this parable is not a general, abstract teaching… it’s an invitation to discipleship… a call from Jesus to those who would draw near to Him, trust in Him, and follow Him… helping them to understand the path that lay before them… the kind of life, shaped by the Gospel of God, they were taking on.
One scholar, Stanley Hauerwas, writes: “Jesus instructs the crowd through some of the parables, but he explains the parables to the disciples because they are the ones who must learn to live in the light of the world revealed by the parables.” It might be tempting to think that this parable is about drawing a clear line between those of us already in the Church… between followers of Jesus, the ‘good soil’ on the one side and everyone else ‘out there’ on the other side. But this parable, and these warnings, are meant first for Christ’s own disciples! We believers are the ones who are first of all being addressed. No matter how many years we have been Christians, or how many ways we have served in the Church, we are all being asked to take these words from our Lord seriously, and to reflect on how this parable speaks into our own situations.
Another scholar and cleric, N.T. Wright, makes this uncomfortable point about paying this kind of attention to the pointed words of Jesus: “It won’t always be easy. Christianity isn’t about cosy little lessons to make us feel better. It’s about what God’s doing in the world — what he’s already done in Jesus and what he wants to do through us today.” And that includes His desire for we His people to grow: and to grow in such ways that all people are also draw closer to His life-giving love… that they too may be helped to faithfully receive the same message we have been given.
So as those who are seeking to trust in, and follow Jesus Christ, let us take a second and let our Lord’s words of warning speak to us:
Is the message of God’s good news resting on the hard path of our life, or has it broken through our walls enough to take root and grow?
Have we been content for the Gospel to touch us only near the surface, or is its life-giving truth beginning to take hold of us deep down, and in every corner of our being?
Are there worries and temptations crowding out God’s word to us, filling our lives with distractions, and sapping our energy, or are we beginning to learn what needs to be cut out, and what needs to be cultivated?
If this sounds a bit like hard work, you’re not wrong. We know that faith can be hard work at times… but, then again, so are most things that truly matter in life. N.T. Wright again makes an important observation about growing in faith: “This takes time, and sometimes hard work. A quick glance at the scriptures, an occasional sitting in church or a study group and being entertained by some new idea, is probably not enough. Care and thought needs to be put in to the task of hearing the word of the kingdom until it has taken proper root. Stones may need moving from the soil; thorns may need uprooting. But when hearing brings understanding, we know we’re getting close to the goal… And the promise then is this: not just that we will, as it were, have succeeded for our own sake, but that we will in turn become kingdom-people, bearing fruit in our own right.”
If you are anything like me, you might be starting to see more than a few areas of your life where it seems some spiritual work might be needed to cultivate an openness to receive God’s life-giving word anew.
If this is true for you today, take heart! Don’t be discouraged. Remember what, and Who, is at the heart of God’s message, God’s Good News. This life-giving message, after all, is that in Jesus Christ, God is at work on our behalf: the Living God has sent His Son, not to bring condemnation… but to seek and to save the lost… to bring about God’s gracious Kingdom, to bind up the broken-hearted, and reconcile all things to Himself… in short, Christ has come to be our Saviour… and the Saviour of the world. Faith may take work, but we certainly aren’t working alone. In Christ, through the Holy Spirit God Himself is at work in us.
The point of Jesus’ parable is not to highlight all our problems, but to help us look to Him for help: learning to trusting in His mercy, and that He longs to help us grow in Him. When we find ourselves still struggling to understand the basics of the faith, let us not give up, but actively seek a deeper knowledge of the Living God… not being afraid to ask questions either, or to ask our sisters and brothers for help.
When we find our faith under pressure, let us not give up, but cling to our Saviour instead: to the One who is able to help us endure and weather any storm, and who calls us to trust in His life-giving love.
When we find ourselves overwhelmed by our worries or distractions… let us not give up on God, but by His grace let us work to cut off those things that ensnare us… to cut back on those desires that tend to take over control of our choices… and to even entrust to God the thorns of our lives… those troubles and cares we cannot avoid… calling on Him to set us free from the fear and burdens they bring.
And in all things, may we remember that Christ desires His disciples, you and I, to bear much fruit… and that through the Holy Spirit’s renewing presence and work, our lives can be made into good soil for the Good News of Jesus… the Saviour of the world. In Him we can grow in the knowledge and love of the living God. In Him, we can endure, and even thrive, in the face of suffering. In Him we can be set free from being ensnared by the distractions of life, and in Him we can share God’s blessed life with all those around us. Amen.
 Hauerwas, S. (2006). Matthew (p. 126). Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.
 Wright, N. T. (2004). Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (p. 159). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
 Wright, N. T. (2004). Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (pp. 166–167). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.