“He taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them, ‘Listen! Consider the sower who went out to sow.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Every teacher has a style. And most teachers have a set of stories they tell over and over and over again. They’re stories they use to make the points they think are the most important to make because they convey the most critical truths they want to communicate. For Jesus, the style was parables, and Mark 4 contains some of the parables that He no doubt told in every little town, village, and hillside He visited. This is a parable we’ve looked at before together, but if Jesus told it a lot, it’s probably worth our time to look at it again.
This story is not about you. It’s not about me. We want it to be, though. We want it to be about how we respond to the teachings of Jesus. We want it to be a warning against being certain kinds of soil which don’t respond well to the message of Jesus.
If the cares of the world are choking the life out of your faith, you need to rid yourself of those. If you are not very deep, you need to start digging so the Spirit can get a little deeper into your heart. If your heart is hard, you need to soften it up and let Jesus in. What you really want, though, is to be the fertile soil. That’s where the magic happens. If you’ll just be the fertile soil, Jesus will be able to do incredible things in and through your life.
Except, it’s not about that at all. This story isn’t about you. Or me. This story is about somebody else.
This story, both here and in the explanation section a few verses over, is about our sharing the Gospel with people who don’t believe. As Jesus told it, you and I are the sowers. We are the ones out sowing the seeds. The different places the seeds fall are the hearts on which our Gospel seeds land. The soil is what it is. We don’t have any hand in the character of the soil. We cast the seeds, and let the Spirit do His work.
Except…that’s not the whole of what we should see here either.
Now, it’s important to know that Jesus was speaking into and out of a model of farming that is ancient. It’s not reflective of modern farming approaches at all. That’s to say we can’t read modern farming practices into Jesus’ parable here. That won’t have us seeing things in the right way. Farmers in Jesus’ day didn’t have the modern know-how or the tools to plant with the precision of a modern farmer. Instead, when they sowed seeds, while they stayed in their own field, they cast seeds generously and some of them didn’t make it into the field. Some of them fell along the path or onto rocky or thorny ground. This is the image.
One thing farmers in Jesus’ day do have in common with modern farmers is that they didn’t have any control over the actual growth of the seeds. God does that. We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we have control over the process, but we don’t really. They didn’t either.
What they and we do have some control over, though, are the conditions of the soil. Now, people are who they are. We can’t control who they are. We can’t control their backgrounds or the condition of their heart when we share the Gospel with them. We share it anyway because who knows where it might take root. Sometimes soil can be surprisingly fertile. But most often, when soil is fertile, it is because there has been a lot of work put in making it so. It has been broken up so it isn’t hard. The rocks have been physically removed. The thorns have been pulled again and again and their roots dug out so they can’t grow anymore. Fertile soil is the result of hard labors in that direction. We may not have done the work ourselves, and are merely benefitting from the work someone else has done, but it has indeed been done.
Here’s what this means for us: When we share the Gospel and it doesn’t take, that’s a sign that there’s work to be done. Now, it may be God has not positioned us in a place where it is our work to be done, but sometimes He has. When we have shared the Gospel with someone into whose life we have earned the authority to speak and it doesn’t take, that’s a sign that we have some work to do. We have some work to do tilling the ground, helping them work through and remove obstacles, and keeping the cares that might choke out their faith trimmed short. God is still the one who will make growth happen, but His invitation is to a partnership to His glory and our joy.
So, go share the Gospel. Sow seeds liberally and generously. And don’t worry about the response you get. It’s not a reflection on you (unless you are sowing offensively, and then it might be). But where the seeds don’t take, pause long enough to ask whether God is inviting you to do some work with the soil so that when the time comes, future Gospel seeds will be able to take root. If you are a follower of Jesus, this is the task to which you’ve been called. Get to it.