“9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” (Luke 8)
Jesus tells a parable of a man sowing seed. A story about the condition of ground in which seed grows best. It occurs to me as we see this story told, it is a parable within a parable.
The Son of God went out to tell a parable to a great crowd. On some it fell on deaf ears. Their hearts were hard and it only made them angry since the man would not speak plain and the devil came and took the words away. Some latched onto it quickly, it tickled their fancy, but the meaning never sank in and they could not recall the story by the time they got home. Some received the story eagerly, even understanding what it meant. Mostly. They could recite it for a while, even discuss what it might mean, but their own viewpoints and hot button issues colored their interpretation of it and so it did not change their lives. Some grabbed hold of the story, turned it inside out, looked at it from every angle, loved it, loved the Son of God who told it to them. They did not try to change it, but let it change them. People noticed.
What kind of ground receives seed best? What kind of ground is best for farming and producing a crop? Broken ground. Plowed, furrowed, all the rocks removed, soft, not growing anything else.
Ground doesn’t often, if ever, get in this condition by itself. The farmer tears at it, drives sharp, hard, heavy steel through it, digging at it, turning it over, exposing the roots of weeds. It’s a violent, dirty business.
What kind of heart receives Jesus best? What kind of heart is best for the Spirit to grow fruit? A soft heart. A humble heart. One not confused with lies, already full with pride or hardened by fear, doubt and worry. Like the rocks, like the weeds, these must be removed. The heart must be turned over, broken, softened. This is a violent, dirty business. It’s done through trial and testing and discipline. It’s exposed in prosperity and poverty, plowed in adversity and suffering.
But all these trials are preparing us for the Word! So they are Grace! They are Good. They are gifts! “2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1) The parable cannot be received by the indifferent listener. It cannot be understood by the closed mind. It cannot be understood correctly by the narrow mind. What kind of heart receives without judgment? Without anger? Without preconceived notions?
“2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19)
Jesus is clear. The Word will never take root in us if we do not allow ourselves to be molded by the Potter. Plowed by the Planter. Weeded by the Lover of our souls. How much is our effort and how much is Grace? I would suggest we lack the powers of perception to answer this. The man treading water is working very hard and feels as if no one is helping. He is alone in this. Yet, he did not make his body, nor give it the ability to move. He did not create the laws of buoyancy or Newtonian physics. Everything keeping him afloat is from God… but it’s near impossible to realize this when treading water.
Jesus’ parable makes it clear God is the farmer, we’re but dirt. Dirt has no power to affect change upon itself. Yet in the same story, Jesus uses action verbs in his warnings to the disciples. “hold it fast”, “18 Take care then how you hear,” finally summing it up with, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” And there are no shortage of calls to action elsewhere: strive, turn, become, obey, open, enter, come, serve, labor. From our vantage point then, it may always look like we’re doing all the work, but don’t give pride any purchase! When we have the advantage of paradise-based points of view and heavenly hindsight, we will see clearly God was in all. Picture the child with their plastic lawnmower out in front of dad with the real one. When the child looks at the last row, he sees it mowed. So he feels he is accomplishing something. Dad however is just enjoying the scene and the time together. Submission, the beginnings of love. It’s not a divvying up of chores, we’ll do this and God does that. It’s the wheel within the wheel. We know not if we turn because we’re pushing forward, being pushed forward or the ground is moving underneath us. We are in Him and He in us!
Can we see this as Caleb did? ““You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. …10 And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” (Josh 14)
Or as Jonathan? “6 Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1Sam 14)
Notice, neither of them knew, they suspected, but only the outcome would tell the tale. Can we this day, pray for this childlike faith then get up, go to the shed, grab our plastic rakes and hoes and go till some ground? It may be that the Lord will work for us.