The parable of the sower has its frightening side.
Do you know the story? Jesus used it as a way to talk about the way all of us invest the time we’ve been given. The point is obvious. We’ve all been designed to produce a “harvest” from our lives, but not everyone gets it done.
It’s easy to picture Jesus looking up into the farmland surrounding the Sea of Galilee as he tells the story. Perhaps there was even a farmer planting his crops in one of the many fields near the lake. If not, the land itself offered a great visual for the lesson.
As Jesus began to speak of a “sower,” he said this: “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.” (Mark 4:4-8)
Then came the familiar closing to one of the familiar parables: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Maybe we would add: “Whoever has eyes to see, let them see!”
The farmland of the Galilee is often still marked with boundary markers that have been around for centuries. Stand in the middle of such a field and you’ll immediately connect with the story.
The boundary fences are made of countless rocks. Farmers had to clear the rocks off the land every year. The winter rains uncovered a new, annual crop, and before the first seed could be planted, the rocks had to be cleared. If you want, you can go throw some rocks on the fence right now. It’s a certainty that new rocks are waiting to be removed! Seeds falling too close to the rock wall will find some of the nastiest nettles and weeds you’d ever come across. It would be impossible to save a plant growing up in such an environment.
Through the fields is usually a path. It was a way for the neighbors to get from Point A to Point B. Their steps packed the dirt as firm as an ancient roadway. Seeds accidentally falling there might well be taken away as a snack by a grateful bird. Today the paths are used by farming equipment and workers.
The rocky soil meant that some seed would fall on “shallow soil,” growing quickly since the rocks still under the soil would draw the heat and act as an incubator for the seedlings. But if the plant’s root could not get to deeper soil, the new plant would soon out-grow its water source. Though it had started with a bang, it would quickly wither and die.
Of course, in the field itself is a crop. Good, healthy plants growing good, healthy fruit. It was the same 20 centuries ago as it is today. This is the goal of the sower’s field.
But all told, it leaves us with a troubling bit of math.
If you’re wanting to follow Jesus it would seem, you’ve only got a 25-percent chance of succeeding! Listen to this story while sitting in a church pew, it would be very easy to think this life is nearly impossible. You’ve only got a 1-in-4 chance of landing in the right place? It’s just the luck of the sower’s throw?
Not at all. Go stand in a sower’s field and look around.
No sower would intentionally throw priceless seed on the path, onto rocky soil and especially not the thorny areas around the wall of rocks.
Look around, and it’s obvious. Yes, there are areas of danger. But no, it’s not a 1-in-4 chance of succeeding. Perhaps, even, there’s an overwhelming opportunity for success! The good soil is everywhere. The sower wants you to succeed. The sower is not against you. He will do his part to put you in the right place to do the right thing. The rest? That’s up to you.
So bloom where you’re planted, and bring the harvest for God’s glory!