Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Parable of The Sower
Volume 6 No. 357 July 8, 2016
II. Lectionary Reflections: Parable of The Sower

Bible Study: The Parable of the Sower

by Michael Graham

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 'Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.'

Then Jesus said, 'Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.'
(Mark 4:1–9)

The Parable of the Sower is one of the better known parables of our Lord and provides us with valuable insights into the kingdom of God.

Mark begins his account by telling us that such a large crowd had gathered that Jesus got into a boat and pushed out into the lake to address them; he also adds that he sat down to teach. Standing in the boat would have made him more visible, but it was customary for rabbis and teachers of the law to sit down while teaching.

The fact that Jesus did sit down would have galled any Pharisees who were present. Here was someone who had not studied with them or been through their ecclesiastical system, teaching in Israel; and to make matters worse large crowds were flocking to hear him.

Why Jesus spoke in parables

Before we look at this parable in detail, let's look at what Jesus said about parables in general.

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, 'The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, "they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!" '
(Mark 4:10–12)

Some people think that Jesus spoke in parables, using illustrations from everyday life, so that the people he was speaking to could understand what he was saying. However, the opposite is true. According to his own words, Jesus spoke in parables so that the people would not understand what he was saying, and would not be forgiven.

God only reveals spiritual truth to those he has chosen to save (2Th 2:13). Others hear the truth but are not able to understand it because it is 'discerned only through the Spirit (1Co 2:14)', ie it can only be understood as the Holy Spirit enables a person to understand it.

Because we, the disciples of Jesus Christ, have been chosen by God for salvation, we've been given his Spirit and can now understand spiritual truth.

The seed is the word

Then Jesus said to them, 'Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word.'
(Mark 4:13–14)

Jesus said that the seed the farmer sows is the word of God or, more precisely, 'the message about the kingdom (Mat 13:19)' - also referred to as 'this gospel of the kingdom (Mat 24:14)' and 'the good news of the kingdom (Luk 4:43)'.

The message about the kingdom is the message of salvation: the message that invites us into the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, in this context, is the spiritual kingdom we enter when we're born again (Joh 3:3–5).

Traditionally we've expected people to come to church to hear that message, but how many people attend church nowadays? It is right and proper that the gospel is preached in our churches, but we shouldn't wait for people to come to church to hear it.

As the farmer went out to sow his seed (Mark 4:3), so the Church should go out to sow God's word (his invitation to the kingdom) - the whole world is our field. In the Parable of the Wedding Banquet the king told his servants to go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone they could find (Mat 22:8–9).

Scattering the seed

'As he was scattering the seed…'
(Mark 4:4)

In this age of high technology farmers use precision drills to place seed in the ground at precise distances apart, but in Jesus' day, broadcasting the seed was the only method available. It may have been wasteful in respect to the amount of seed used, but it holds spiritual lessons for us.

To sow his seed in Jesus' day, a farmer would fix his eyes on a point at the other side of the field and walk towards it, rhythmically taking handfuls of grain from his pouch and scattering them in a sweeping action from one side to the other.

He wasn't watching where the seed fell, but was making sure he kept a straight line across the field. Consequently the seed came to rest in various places.

The Christian's task is to sow God's word into people's hearts. We won't know what kind of soil we are sowing it into but, as we have the opportunity, we should scatter the seed wherever we can. And the seed we sow doesn't have to be the gospel. All of God's Word is alive and active (Heb 4:12); God can speak to a person through any part of his Word.

The Parable of the Sower is about two things: the kingdom of God (ie salvation) and the human heart. Jesus taught that, in respect to the kingdom of God (salvation), mankind can be divided into four categories according to the kind of heart they have; their hearts being illustrated by the type of soil the seed fell on.

1 The seed along the path

'Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.'
(Mark 4:15)

Matthew's Gospel gives us more information:

'…when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.'
(Mat 13:19)

Those, like seed along the path, are those who hear the word but cannot understand it, so Satan comes and takes the word away from them. They didn't understand what they heard… and now it's gone.

As we've already seen, only those whom God has chosen to save can understand spiritual truth. These are people who have not been chosen for salvation so they cannot understand the word and respond to it. Their hearts are hard like the path (Rom 9:18). God's seed will never germinate in their hearts. They will never be born again.

2 The seed on rocky places

'Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.'
(Mark 4:16–7)

Some believe that those in this category are not true believers and make only an outward confession of faith. I cannot accept that for three reasons:

Unlike the previous category, Jesus didn't say they don't understand the word. These people do understand it, and that is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

They receive it with joy. Joy is a scriptural sign that someone has come to believe in Jesus (Act 16:34).

In Luke's Gospel Jesus said, 'They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away (Luk 8:13).'

Jesus knows whether a person has believed in him or not. These are true believers but they don't develop a root system. Consequently, when persecution comes because of the word they've believed, they quickly fall away.

Rooted in him

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
(Col 2:6–7)

Paul urges all who have received Jesus Christ to continue to live in him and to root themselves in him. In that way they will build themselves up and become strong in the faith.

A plant's root system serves three functions: it anchors it to the ground and enables it to absorb moisture and nutrients, but the most important is the absorption of moisture. In Luke's Gospel Jesus said that when the plants came up they withered because they had no moisture (Luk 8:6). They had no moisture because they had no roots to absorb it.

Water supplies the moisture a plant needs and water, in the Bible, is used to symbolize the Holy Spirit (Joh 7:38–9). Water symbolizes the Spirit because the Spirit is as essential for spiritual life as water is for physical life.

These people don't put their roots down into God to draw on the life-giving moisture of his Spirit, so when the heat comes (the time of testing) they shrivel up and die.

Jeremiah spoke about such people:

This is what the Lord says:

'Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.

That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes.

They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.'
(Jer 17:5–6)

Christians who trust in human flesh for their strength, rather than in God, can be divided into three categories:

i Those who trust in their own strength

These are Christians who trust in their own strengths, abilities and skills; they don't need God to help them in life, other than to be their Saviour. That is pride. It's humbling to say, 'Lord, I cannot do this by myself; please help me, I need your help.' These people rely on their own strength, rather than on God's strength.

ii Those who trust in the strength of others

These are Christians who love the fellowship of believers (which is not wrong), but their lives become unbalanced. Their time is taken up with meetings and doing things, so much so that their quiet time with the Lord is nothing more than a few brief moments snatched during the day (if they have the time).

They don't spend time reading their Bibles, or in prayer. If they have a problem, others pray for them. I know it's scriptural to pray for each other, but the Word says: 'Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray (Jam 5:13).'

God wants us to present our requests to him ourselves and to see him answer our prayers so that our faith in him will grow. These Christians never rely on God directly, they only rely on him through others and so, in the time of testing, they fall away.

iii Those who trusted in the Lord, but do so no longer

These are Christians who trusted in God but, as the years go by, they start to put their trust in other things. King Asa, in the Old Testament, is an example of this (2Ch 14:1–15,16:1–10). Jeremiah said: 'Cursed is the one who trusts in man… and whose heart turns away from the Lord (Jer 17:5).' We can only turn away from the Lord if we once trusted in him.

God sent a prophet to Asa to ask him why, having once relied on the Lord, he was now looking to human flesh for his strength. Asa was so angry with the prophet that he put him in prison. Sometimes we don't like to be confronted with the truth.

Jeremiah continued:

'But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.'
(Jer 17:7–8)

These are Christians who have taken time to develop their own intimate relationship with God. They read his Word and spend time at his feet, listening to his voice (Luk 10:38–9).

They have put their roots down deep into God and draw constantly on the life-giving power of his Spirit. They trust in the Lord, and continue to trust in him. Consequently, no matter what comes against them - troubles, trials, persecutions or testings - they will stand, because God will make them stand.

They can go through drought and heat without effect, because their confidence is in the Lord and not in those around them. The Word says they will be blessed in what they do and will never fail to bear fruit.

It doesn't matter how well we begin our walk with the Lord, it's how we finish that matters (Heb 3:14). Asa began by trusting in God and was blessed because of that but, when he looked to human beings for deliverance, the Lord said, 'You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.' In other words, trouble will be your lot (2Ch 16:9b).

God doesn't like it if we stop trusting in him.

3 The seed among thorns

'Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful [Greek: akarpos: that which doesn't produce fruit, a crop or a harvest].'
(Mark 4:18–9)

To my mind, this is the saddest of the categories Jesus spoke about. If the people in the previous category are true believers then these, also, are true believers.

Luke’s Gospel says:

'The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.'
(Luk 8:14)

These are people who hear God's word, are born again and begin to grow, but they allow the things of the world to come in and choke their growth so that they do not mature and produce a crop.

I believe this is the greatest danger facing Christians in the West today. It is not persecution that is threatening our growth to maturity, but the worries of this life, our love for the world and the desire for its riches and pleasures.

Riches and pleasures

Paul wrote that Demas, because he loved this world, had deserted him and had gone to Thessalonica (2Ti 4:10), and that others, eager for money, had wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1Ti 6:10).

Do we believe we are more pure than our first-century brethren and that such actions are beyond us? Surely never before in the history of mankind has such a huge range of pleasures been available to so many people, together with the means to indulge in them. We are truly living in a pleasure-loving and a pleasure-seeking world.

There is so much around us to entice us away from our devotion to God. What would you rather do: watch your favourite television programme, or pray? The Lord may not mind if you watched the programme, but if he asked you to pray at that time, would you find it difficult?

Pleasure, if it doesn't involve sin, is not wrong and can be beneficial as long as we keep it in proper perspective in our lives, but if it occupies first place in our hearts we are guilty of idolatry. Idolatry is not just creating an idol and bowing down to it; idolatry is allowing anything in this world to come between us and God.

The first commandment God gave to Israel was that they should have no other gods before him (Exo 20:3). The Hebrew word translated 'before' means in front of. But why didn't he just tell them not to have any other gods?

He said that because something that is not a god can become a god to us if it becomes more important to us than God. It's not the thing itself, but the position it occupies in our hearts: nothing in our lives should come before God.

God is a jealous God (Exo 20:5): he will not compete with anyone or anything for our affections. He commands that we love him more than anything, or anyone, in this world (Mar 12:28–30; 1Jo 2:15).

That is why the apostle John wrote: 'Dear children, keep yourselves from idols (1Jo 5:21).' He didn't just mean that we shouldn't bow down to statues, but that we shouldn't allow anything in this world to become more important to us than God.

Paul wrote to Timothy:

The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.
(1Ti 5:5–6)

Christians who put pleasure first in their lives face spiritual death. He also wrote:

But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…. Have nothing to do with such people.
(2Ti 3:1–5)

Who can deny we're now living in the 'terrible times' Paul wrote about? We're definitely in the last days. One of the signs of those times is that people will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

Pleasure will not only be their god, it will also be their lord. It will tell them where to go, what to do and how to spend their money - things the Holy Spirit wants to lead us in (Rom 8:14). Christians are told to have nothing to do with such godless behavior.


But riches and pleasures were not the first thing Jesus warned about. He said that the worries of this life can also choke our spiritual growth, making us unfruitful (Mar 4:19). What did he mean by that? The Greek word translated 'worries' is merimna. It means worry, concern, anxiety. The same word is found in our Lord's conversation with Martha (Luk 10:38–42).

Martha was a godly woman whom Jesus loved (Joh 11:5), and she’d invited him into her home. She wanted to be a good host but her sister Mary wouldn’t help her with the work. Instead she sat at Jesus’ feet listening to what he said.

Martha complained to Jesus about this, but he defended Mary’s actions. He told her that she (Martha) was worried (merimna) about many things (the everyday problems of life), but few things are needed - or indeed only one (that at the end of our lives we receive eternal life). Mary was attending to that need first, and Jesus wouldn't stop her.

We must never allow anything in our lives - even the many things we have to do: earn a living, look after our families, look after our homes - to keep us from spending time with the Lord.

Jesus said:

'I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.'
(Joh 15:5)

Remaining in Jesus involves spending time with him. If we stop spending time with the Lord, we will stop receiving the nourishing sap from the Vine (the Holy Spirit) who enables us to bear fruit for God.

The Greek word translated 'fruit' in the analogy of the Vine and the Branches (Joh 15:1–17) is karpos. It's the same Greek word translated 'crop' in the Parable of the Sower (Mat 13:8; Mar 4:8; Luk 8:8). It's also found in Gal 5:22 where it describes the 'fruit' (karpos) of the Spirit.

That means that the Parable of the Sower and our Lord's teaching on the Vine and the Branches deal with the same subject - our production of spiritual fruit for God.

4 The seed on good soil

'Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop - some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.'
(Mark 4:20)

Luke says:

'But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.'
(Luk 8:15)

When a farmer sows his seed, he does so with one aim in mind - to reap a harvest.

He won't see the seed that fell along the path: it didn't germinate and has long since disappeared. It will sadden him to see the dried, withered, plants on the rocky soil; and the short, stunted, plants that were choked by thorns; but his delight will be in the mature plants that have yielded a crop - for that is why he sowed his seed. The same is true with God.

Even though man sows the seed on God's behalf, God is the farmer in this parable as much as he's the gardener in the Vine and the Branches. In both God is looking for a crop.

The message to Christians is clear: God expects to reap a harvest from the spiritual seed he sows in our hearts, and that harvest is the fruit of his Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22–3).

That fruit, or crop, takes time to grow and is produced as a Christian matures. It comes as we allow the Word of God and the Spirit of God to change us.

Modern plant hybridization ensures that every ear of corn yields almost an identical amount of grain, but it was not so in our Lord's day. In his day yields varied greatly from plant to plant; and so it is with us. We won't all yield the same amount of fruit for God, but we can all produce a crop if we persevere.

Perseverance is continuing on despite difficulties. The difficulties we experience as Christians are the trials and testings we go through that bring us to maturity (Jam 1:2–4).


But what about those who don't produce a crop? As we saw earlier, they can be divided into three categories:

1 The seed that fell along the path

These are people who don't understand the word, so they cannot believe and are never saved (Luk 8:12).

2 The seed that fell on rocky places

These people believe for a while but when trouble or persecution comes they fall away (Mar 4:16–7; Luk 8:13). That means they believe and are saved, but turn away from the faith when things get difficult. Will such people inherit eternal life?

Jesus, speaking about the persecution that will occur immediately before his return, said: 'At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other… but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Mat 24:10–3).' That implies that those who fall away when persecuted will not be saved.

Jesus described such people as plants that become scorched and withered by the sun (Mar 4:6). We've all seen plants like that; is there life in them? There was life in them at one time - that was how they germinated and grew - but there is no life in them now.

3 The seed that fell among thorns

These people also believe and begin to grow, but their worldliness chokes their spiritual growth and prevents them from producing a crop (Mar 4:18–9). Will such people be saved?

In his analogy of the Vine and the Branches Jesus said that his Father is the gardener (Joh 15:1). He also said that his Father cuts off every branch in him that does not bear fruit (Joh 15:2). That means that every believer who does not produce the fruit (or crop) of the Spirit will eventually be cut off from Christ.

According to our Lord's teaching, fruit-bearing (crop-bearing) - producing the fruit of God's Spirit in our lives - is essential for salvation.

God has provided us with everything we need to be saved (2Pe 1:3–4), and his desire is that we are saved; but he won't take our free will from us. If any Christian fails to reach heaven, the fault will be their own, and not God's.

Source: Michael Graham Ministries

[Editor's Note: The article was edited to conform to size limitations.]

What is the meaning of the Parable of the Sower?
Question: "What is the meaning of the Parable of the Sower?"

Answer: The Parable of the Sower (also known as the Parable of the Four Soils) is found in Matthew 13:3-9; Mark 4:2-9; and Luke 8:4-8. After presenting this parable to the multitude, Jesus interprets it for His disciples in Matthew 13:18-23; Mark 4:13-20; and Luke 8:11-15.

The Parable of the Sower concerns a sower who scatters seed, which falls on four different types of ground. The hard ground "by the way side" prevents the seed from sprouting at all, and the seed becomes nothing more than bird food. The stony ground provides enough soil for the seeds to germinate and begin to grow, but because there is "no deepness of earth," the plants do not take root and are soon withered in the sun. The thorny ground allows the seed to grow, but the competing thorns choke the life out of the beneficial plants. The good ground receives the seed and produces much fruit.

Jesus' explanation of the Parable of the Sower highlights four different responses to the gospel. The seed is "the word of the kingdom." The hard ground represents someone who is hardened by sin; he hears but does not understand the Word, and Satan plucks the message away, keeping the heart dull and preventing the Word from making an impression. The stony ground pictures a man who professes delight with the Word; however, his heart is not changed, and when trouble arises, his so-called faith quickly disappears. The thorny ground depicts one who seems to receive the Word, but whose heart is full of riches, pleasures, and lusts; the things of this world take his time and attention away from the Word, and he ends up having no time for it. The good ground portrays the one who hears, understands, and receives the Word—and then allows the Word to accomplish its result in his life. The man represented by the "good ground" is the only one of the four who is truly saved, because salvation's proof is fruit (Matthew 3:7-8; 7:15-20).

To summarize the point of the Parable of the Sower: "A man's reception of God's Word is determined by the condition of his heart." A secondary lesson would be "Salvation is more than a superficial, albeit joyful, hearing of the gospel. Someone who is truly saved will go on to prove it." May our faith and our lives exemplify the "good soil" in the Parable of the Sower.

Recommended Resources:

Parables of Jesus by James Montgomery Boice and
Logos Bible Software.


The Parable of the Sower
Gospel: - Mark 4:1-9

"Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 'Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow' "
(Mark 4: 1-3)

Mark's gospel emphasizes Jesus as a man of action, one with an urgent mission to usher in the kingdom of God by conquering His enemies. Consequently, as we have seen, Mark spends less time on the teaching ministry of our Lord than the other gospel writers do. But Mark does not ignore Jesus' instruction. In fact, he devotes most of chapter 4 to our Savior's parables.

The first parable that we find in Mark 4 is the parable of the sower, which is perhaps more accurately titled the parable of the soils, since the emphasis of the teaching is on the different soils in which the sower's seed falls. We will focus on the significance of the soils when we come to verses 13–20 and Jesus' explanation of the parable; today's passage is the parable itself. Our Savior delivers the parable on the shores of the Sea of Galilee—actually, He delivers it from the sea of Galilee, for we see in verse 1 that He has had to get on a boat and go out some distance from the shore because of the large crowd. By preaching from a boat, Jesus makes it easier for people to see Him, and there is also the advantage of His voice being amplified by the water so that more people can hear Him.

Jesus borrows an image from first-century Galilean agriculture in order to teach a spiritual lesson. In those days, farmers scattered seed far and wide before plowing, and that is what the farmer does in Mark 4:4–8. In verse 14, our Lord explains that the seed scattered by the farmer represents the "word," that is, the gospel; thus, we have an image of the indiscriminate preaching of God's Word. In other words, Jesus sees the gospel as a message that must be preached to all people. We may not view some people as worthy of hearing God's Word and others as unworthy of it. Furthermore, we are not to be worried about whether our hearers have hearts that are inclined to respond in faith. God, not us, prepares the hearts of people to receive the gospel, and He alone can grant faith (1 Cor. 3:6).

The parable of the sower is framed by Jesus' command to listen to Him (Mark 4:3) and His call, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (v. 9). With this we see the interplay of what theologians have called the outward call and the inner, effectual call of the gospel. All people are rightly exhorted to respond to the gospel in faith—they are called outwardly by the preacher to believe. However, not all will respond. Only some have ears to hear the message in faith—only some are granted faith and repentance by God.

Coram Deo

Understanding that God must give people hearts to believe releases us from many burdens. All we have to do is preach the gospel faithfully; we do not have to reinvent the wheel and come up with new techniques to get people to respond. We do not have to be clever or come up with ways to artificially increase church attendance. We just preach the gospel accurately and trust God to fulfill His purposes with it.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 44:7 Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.

Matthew 11:15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Romans 11:7–8 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day."

2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure nsound1 teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of san evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Source: Ligonier.Org

The Sower and the Seeds

by Rev. Edward F. Markquart, Sermons from Seattle

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

It is one of those hot summer days, one of the gloriously hot summer days, and he was out on the lake. It was a beautiful lake. Eight miles wide and thirteen miles long. It was perfectly blue, on a perfect day for swimming, boating, sailing, fishing. Like Eastern Washington. Warm, hot, brown rolling hills all around.

This lake was known as Lake Galilee. Some people call it the Sea of Galilee but when you hear the word "sea," most of us think of salt water. We need to know it was not salt water but a fresh water lake by the name of Lake Galilee. Jesus was having a wonderful time on that beautiful day on Lake Galilee. He was up on the north end of the lake in the little town called Capernaum. We recall that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; he was reared in the town of Nazareth; but in his adulthood, he was living up in the town of Capernaum on the shores of Lake Galilee.

Jesus was in his home there in Capernaum and he came out and everybody said to him, "Tell us a story Jesus." Now Jesus could really tell a story. They loved his stories because he knew down to earth language. He didn't use any fancy, high falootin words that he learned at some graduate school. Jesus told stories from everyday life about the common things of life. He would tell stories about donkeys and camels and cows and sheep and seeds and soil. Jesus would tell stories about the common things of life. And then at the end of the story, he would often give an exaggeration. Jesus had an exaggerated sense of humor. Jesus made everybody laugh because he told these outlandish stories. And then the people would go home and try to figure them out.

So one day, Jesus walked out of his house that was in the little village of Capernaum located on the north end of Lake Galilee. The people said, "Tell us a story." So Jesus went and got a little rowboat from the lake. Jesus said, "I will tell you this story. It is about….

Now, I have to make this a contemporary story. I have to tell it in my language, my culture, my century.

Jesus said, "I am sitting in the middle of winter time, January or February, and I was reading my Burpee Seed Catalogue. I often read the Burpee Seed Catalogue and look for good ideas for gardening. I saw some really good seeds in that Burpee Seed Catalogue. Those seeds made really, really big tomato plants that had big tomatoes on them. I have always wanted to have those big tomato plants with big tomatoes in my garden. So I ordered these seeds from the Burpee Seed Catalogue. The seeds came in the mail. I looked at those seeds for a couple of months.

Time passed. Spring was here. It was time to go out and till the soil and got the soil all ready. The soil got warm by the sun. I put on my apron with its pockets in which I put my seeds. I was walking along with my apron on, with my seeds in its pockets, and I was walking out to my garden. On the way out to my garden, some of the seed from the apron fell onto the path. Some of the seed fell on the side of the path where it is kind of rocky. Then some of the seeds fell there in the weeds by the rocks of the path. And I got to the garden. My, there was good soil in my garden. One part lama doo; another part horse doo; another part chicken doo; another part grass; another part leaves. It was good soil. I spread my seeds with my hand, scattering those seeds on the good soil. Job done. I went back home and hung around for a little while. I would go out and check the garden occasionally.

One time when I came back to the garden, I noticed all the seed that had spilled on the hard path. The birds had come and eaten the seeds all up. And then I noticed those seeds that had fallen on the rocky edges right by the side of the path, those tomato plants had grown up but they had all withered and died. Those plants had been there a little while but they shriveled up and die. Then, next to the rocky edges were the weeds. There were the tomato plants right there in the middle of the weeds, but there was not any fruit on them.

Then I got to my garden with the great soil in it and my tomato plant and my tomato plant had a hundred tomatoes on it. And Jesus laughed. And the children laughed. And he said, I had another plant that had sixty. And the little old grandmas laughed. And I had another plant and it had thirty tomatoes on it. And an old Jewish grandpa who was part Norwegian said in his gruff voice, "Hey Jesus. You can't get a tomato plant to give out more than ten tomatoes. What do you mean, you got thirty, sixty, a hundred. That is impossible." And all the people laughed. Jesus then said, "When you go home today and have lunch, figure out the story."

The people all went home laughing. They liked Jesus' stories because he knew this down to earth stuff and he also had wonderful exaggerations, especially at the end of his stories.

And the people asked, "What does that mean? What does Jesus mean by that story?"

Jesus said, "Why is it, that so much goodness is produced in some people's lives? Why is it that some Christian's lives are so productive? Why is it that some Christians produce a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control? Why is it that some Christians produce a hundred tomatoes of love? Why is it that some Christians have a hundred tomatoes of happiness? Why is it that some Christians have a hundred tomatoes of patience? Why is it that some Christians have a hundred tomatoes of goodness?

Why is it, when you look at some people's lives, that they produce such an abundance and other people don't produce anything at all? Why is that?

That is the underlying question of this parable. Why is it that some Christian lives are so enormously productive and others are not? That is what Jesus is addressing in his story for today.

Jesus said, while walking along the path to the garden, some people are just hard. Their hearts are hard. Their hearts are hard towards God, the things of God, hard towards prayer. Chances are, these people are not here in church today. Chances are, you know these people from your work, your school, your neighborhood. I am now thinking about someone from my neighborhood.

When you talk to people with hard hearts, you sense that for them, Christ is a waste of time, God is a waste of time, prayer is a waste of time. Anything to do with these kinds of things is a waste of time. And if you talk to these people about the poor and the starving of the world, they could care less. Of if you tell them that 79% of the children are on federally subsidized lunches at the schools, they could care less. Their hearts don't care for people who are hurting. And to be honest, often their hearts are hard to their mothers and their fathers and their husbands or wives. And this is the worst thing: they aren't nice to the other kids in the neighborhood. That is always a clue to me. If someone has a hard heart, they don't like the little kids in the neighborhood.

Jesus said, "That is the way it is." You go and sow the seed of God, the Word of God, and these people are just hard.

Jesus continued, "There is another kind of people who are not very productive. Those are the kind of people who are like rocky soil, like the rocky soil by the side of the path. The seed comes up ever so quickly. God comes up ever so quickly but then the plant dies. That is because of the suffering and persecution that comes in their life."

Let me try to explain this teaching of Jesus. I think that there are some people who are into the illusion that when you are a Christian, you have a better family, better kids, better job, better everything. There are some churches which actually preach this. It is called "health and wealth Christianity." You find this kind of Christianity all over the television. That when you get God, you get healthy and wealthy. And so when life is not so healthy and wealthy and things in life don't work out so well, they kind of give up and say, "God does not work after all."

Or, there are other people who have really experienced great trauma and suffering in life and they have been angry at God ever since. Like the little boy at the campfire who said, "I'll never forget what God did to my grandma when she got a stroke." And the little boy at the campfire who said, "When my dad committed suicide, I won't forget that."

There are all kinds of people who have critical moments in life when something enormously tragic happens to them and they never get over it. To their dying day, they blame God for the tragedy which happened in their life. They also blame God for all the other tragedies that happen in the whole wide world. These tragedies are part of human misery.

Still others are not like the little kids I am talking about. Still others who go through a divorce or when your marriage dies or your child dies through a sudden car accident or your spouse dies prematurely, and as a consequence, you just give up on the Christian faith. You are out of gas and you quit the faith.

Have you ever hear the phrase, "fair weather fans" or "fair weather Mariner fans." Fair weather fans are when the sun is shining and the team is winning. A fair-weather Sea Hawks fan is when the Seahawks are winning. Fair weather Christians are those who believe in God and are committed to God as long as they are winning. As long as their health is good, their family is good, their kids are good, their grandkids are good, their job is good, they are fair-weather Christians. But when the weather gets nasty, they start giving up their faith in God. I see it all the time. Not realizing that the purpose of God is to make us strong in the midst of tragedy. I guarantee you that your life and mine is going to have tragedy. I guarantee you. It is going to have tragedy. The purpose of the Christian faith is not to insulate us from tragedy but to make us strong in the midst of the tragedies of life. But some fair-weather Christians, truly don't understand this. The plant comes up and it actually dies.

It reminds me when I used to be a canoe guide up in Northern Minnesota. When I was a young buck going through college, I would spend summers at a canoe camp in Northern Minnesota. I was a canoe guide. We would take kids from a reform school called Redwing State Training School. These kids had gotten into trouble with the law. We would take them out on canoe trips that would last one to two weeks. For these kids from the reform school, it was really spooky. They were stuck with me out in those woods there at night. We were out there and these kids would see these tall pine trees. They were so impressed with these tall pine trees that were sixty-five feet tall. But when the wind would blow, we would get out canoes and tents away from those tall trees. I said, "Those trees are dangerous." "What do you mean?" the kids questioned. I said, "All this land is Saganaw granite. The soil on top of the granite is only a few inches deep. The tree is sixty-five feet tall. When the wind comes, it blows those gigantic trees right over because they don't have any roots. Whereas, if you go down to California and the giant redwoods and sequoias, the roots of those trees go down deep. Those trees have a deep root system and those deep root systems are interconnected. So when the winds blow, the trees don't blow over.

I have discovered that is the way it is with some Christians. Those Christians can live for sixty-five years; they can be sixty-five years tall; but when the winds of life come, they get blown over. You erroneously think that because they are sixty-five feet tall and sixty-five years old, they are strong, but they are not. They fool. They fool you when you think they are strong. Their apparent strength is an illusion. When the winds of life are strong, their faith blows over because some tragedy has happened in their lives, not knowing that the purpose of God is to give us strength in the midst of tragedies.

There is another example of what I am talking about. Quickie Christians. Some of you may be Quickie Christians. When things are really going bad, some of you come to the church and Jesus Christ for quickie solutions. You hope that God will give you a quick solution for the problem you are facing. You come through the adult inquiry class, get baptized, and come to a few classes and worship services, hoping that you will get a quick solution to your problem. But it does not happen.

So in the parable for today, there is initial faith but it quickly dies.

Jesus has been asking the question: "Why is it that some Christians are so abundant in their Christian lives and other are not?"

The third kind of soil is those who are raised among the weeds. The weeds choke them out. If you are a gardener, you know about weeds. This morning, I parked my car right outside the church, and I could see the morning glory taking over the blackberry bushes. Honestly, there was a war going on between the morning glory and the blackberry bushes. If you are a gardener and you leave morning glory unattended in your garden, what is the result? If you leave the blackberry bushes unattended near the edges of your garden, what is the result? The very essence of gardening is to get out the weeds because if you don't, the weeds will choke out the plants. It is an absolute. The gardener's life is to fight with and dig out the weeds.

And Jesus said, "What are the weeds?" It is interesting what Jesus said. I like the translation of the Revised Standard Version more than the New International Version which was read for you today. Jesus said, "Where the cares, the riches and the pleasures choke out your Christian faith."

I would like to talk briefly about the cares of life, all the legitimate cares of your life where you care for your wife, your kids, your work. I am so busy caring for my family. To be honest, it has changed for me now. I am at a point in life where my youngest is turning twenty in a few days. I will not have a teenager in the family. How blessed am I (making a sign of the cross.) Do you know how busy it was for the past twenty-thirty years? Do you know how busy it is when you try to take your kids to soccer and band and church and retreats and you don't have enough time. Have you ever played the game, "Run yourself ragged?" We have this wonderful game at home, and I absolutely hate it. You have to do all these things so fast and the timer is on and you are behind. We are all late, late for this and late for that as we are all running ourselves ragged.

The legitimate cares of our lives interfere with the growth of this plant, with the growth of our relationship to Christ. The plant is alive there in that dirt but it just doesn't produce any fruit.

After "cares," the text for today mentions the "riches and the pleasures." This has to do with the abundance of possessions and the pleasures of life. Now, be honest. When the kids were young, we were always short of money. But now when the kids are older, and they are actually paying their own rent, there is more money. In our house, nowadays we actually have discretionary income. This is incredible. And I have found out that the devil is also active now. It is amazing. The devil was not only active in our lives when the teenagers were young kids so long ago, but now when we get hooked on material possessions and prosperity. I think that it is true, that we get so wrapped up in the cares of life and the riches and pleasures of life and we give God the leftovers. Chances are that we are so busy with the cares of life and the riches and pleasures of life, we really don't have much time left over.

But what Jesus is suggesting that before your cares, before your riches, before your pleasures, you put God first in your life. You give God the first and best of your time. You give God the first and best of your emotional energy. You give God the first and best of your money. And all the other stuff falls into place.

All I know it is a constant battle at our house to fight off the weeds. And I sense that it is a constant battle in your lives as well.

But then we get to the last soil. We come to the last soil and it is the good soil. It produces a hundred tomatoes. Sixty tomatoes. And thirty tomatoes. On one plant. A hundred tomatoes of patience. A hundred tomatoes of love. A hundred tomatoes of goodness.

Why? Why is it that some lives are so productive of fruit? See here in this bucket. It is in the soil. Three parts lama doo. One part horse doo-doo. One part chicken doo-doo. One part grass. One part leaf clippings. And you age this dirt for two years. And you get this luscious, thick, light, nutrient soil.

Good soil is a miracle. Good soil is a miracle where you work hard at the soil. Where you pull out the rocks. This soil once was filled with rocks and somebody had to dig them out. When you pull out the rocks and when you pull out the weeds and when you bring in the sawdust and all the different manures and you let it age. It take time to age good soil. It takes time of prayer and patience and goodness.

And when you put that seed it, that plant grew up so big and it had one hundred tomatoes. Wow!!!

One day, Jesus was sitting there on the shores of the north end of the Sea of Galilee. It was a wonderful hot summer day in the nineties. It was wonderful. Lake Galilee was shining there with its blue shimmering water. It was perfect for swimming; perfect for fishing; perfect for hanging out in the sun.

The crowd said, "Jesus tell us a story." Jesus said, "OK. I'll tell you a story. One time there was a farmer who had some seed. As he walked along to his garden, some seed fell on the hard path. Some seed fell on the rocky soil. Some seed fell among the thistles. And some seed fell on the good soil. The first seeds got eaten by the birds. The other seeds withered on the path. Some other seeds got all choked out. But this soil produced a hundred tomatoes.

The people said, "We'd all better go home and think about that. I wonder what that means for my life." And they all went home and thought about it. Amen.


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