That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”Matthew 13:1-9 (NIV)
Having grown up in an agricultural state in the Midwest, I experienced a lot of planting and harvest seasons. Many of my friends lived on farms and some still are engaged in farming. Over the years I have seen many changes in how crops are planted and harvested. An eight row planter was pretty standard when I was young but today a farmer can purchase a forty-eight row planter if they have a large enough field. That is a significant change over the last thirty years. Prior to the industrial age, most planting was done by casting seed (sowing) on the ground which had been tilled up in some way. A century later, farmers use satellites, GPS, and multi-row planters at each start of the growing season.
Today’s passage involves Jesus teaching the crowd from a boat using a parable or story. He tells the people about a man who goes into a field to plant. Some of the seed fell on a path, some landed on rocks, some fell among the thorns, and some seed landed on good soil which produced a very bountiful crop. Jesus leaves the story at this point. Later he will explain the parable to his disciples but does no explanation to the crowd. The people are left to interpret themselves.
This story has caused some speculation even today. If you read further in Matthew you will find Jesus’s explanation which gives meaning to the elements of the story (See verses 18-23). So the current day speculation is not about the meaning of the story’s pieces but instead, what is the focus of the story — the farmer, the seed, or the soil. I lean toward the soil.
The soil in the story represents the mind and heart of the receiver of the kingdom message. The kingdom message is God is love and life finds its purpose in this love. Hearing this message is not possible for someone who is not open to receive it (the path). If a person is able to receive the message and does so with great enthusiasm but is unable to integrate it into their lives (the rocks) then their enthusiasm will dwindle and the message dies. At times in an individual’s life the demands upon them and their focus on their goals and worries can cause them to hear the message, begin incorporating it into how they live but then they lose sight of it and it does not change them (thorny soil). The person who receives the message, lets it become deeply rooted in their lives, and produces change for them and those around them is the one who benefits (good soil).
This parable pushes us in two ways. The first is to strive to be open and receive the kingdom message, take it into ourselves, become rooted in our lives, and have it become the core of who we are as we respond to people and events. The second is to commit ourselves to assisting others in becoming good soil. Open the hearts and minds of others. Nurture others when they have received the message so it may take root and become established in them. Support and hold one another accountable to help prevent life demands, goals, and worries from overcoming the impact of the message.