The summer of this liturgical year is rich in parables. And appropriately we start with a parable of new life… the parable of the sower, the seed and the soil. To make our entry into parable season easier, Jesus provides an instant interpretation of his analogy. God is the sower. His word is the seed. We are the soil.
Substitute “soul” for “soil” and the lesson becomes even easier to understand. The sower and the seed are constants. The soil is the variable. God and his word never waver. God constantly reaches out to us. He spreads his word far and wide. How we receive his word, how we nurture it… those are the variables that lead either to a life of fulfilment or a life of frustration.
But there is a significant anomaly in this parable. Souls are not soils. They are not inert. Soil cannot choose to be barren. But souls can. Soils don’t make themselves a desert. But we can choose to make a desert of our souls. Unlike soils, souls have a will. They can choose to receive the word or reject it. They can choose to nurture the word or starve it. They can choose to bear fruit or turn to dust.
For an audience that lived close to the soil, doubtless this parable in all its permutations hit home. The thorns, the birds, the rocky soil… these were all obstacles to survival in their subsistence economy. No charming abstractions here, they were everyday life or death perils for people who lived a harvest away from disaster.
That is the import of this message. We are given one season, one lifetime to bear fruit. Our lifetime is full of second chances, but it still remains only one lifetime. We can waste it among the weeds of sin. We can neglect it in the bareness of indifference. But the harvest is certain. And the loving Sower is also the just Reaper. We will all be called to account for the stewardship of his seed. We will all answer for what we have done with a lifetime of grace. And in that case this parable has another very fortunate anomaly.
Unlike the primitive subsistence farmer, God does not just scatter his word and hope for the best. God is not just a prime-mover Creator. He did not set the universe in motion and wish us good luck while he tends to more important matters. God is the constant Creator, Redeemer and Abiding Spirit. He loves us, guards us, guides us and nurtures us through every second of our existence. In worship and fellowship, he enriches the soil. In forgiveness he weeds us of sin. Rain or shine his grace endlessly nourishes and replenishes the soil.
But, our souls must choose. And that is not a once in a lifetime choice. In a brief moment of inspiration, we can’t just stand up for Jesus and then go on with business as usual. Every day we must decide what kind of soil we will be… a soul flowering in loving service to God or a barren patch of pride. Will we grow in God’s love or shrink in self-absorption?
Choose growth. Choose God. The growing season will always abound in rocks and thorns, birds and blight. Our souls will always be beset by challenges and temptations, falls and resurrections. But in faith we know where it will end… safe in Christ, at rest in our own native soil… the garden of the Lord.
The Reverend David Sellery, Author, Resource Creator and Retreat Leader. Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, I serve as an Episcopal priest who seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, congregational development and community outreach, while continually engaging our wider culture with dynamism and hope.