Monday, September 29, 2008

sow what?

“A Sower went out to sow.” – Matt 13:3

Most of us are familiar with this parable. A Sower goes out to sow seeds – some seed falls on the path, some seed falls on the rocky ground, some seed falls on the thorns, but the rest falls on the good soil and bears a whole lot of fruit. The end. Only in private, at a later time, will Jesus unlock the mysteries of this parable to his disciples. And here’s the gist of what Jesus says: seeds are “sown in the heart” (Matt 13:19). And so Jesus’ parable of the Sower, among other things, is a parable about the human heart. And as we’ve already seen, the new Moses’ new Law aims to transform the human heart.

Why does Jesus tell the parable of the Sower? For the same reason Jesus tells all of his parables. Jesus wants to shake us from our complacency. Jesus wants us to repent – or “change our mind” – about the many ways we oppose God’s will for our life. Jesus wants us to anchor ourselves in God’s kingdom that is even now in our midst.

That being said, what does this mean practically for the disciple of Jesus? It means that we examine the state of our hearts. Is the soil soft and fertile, rocky, or infested with weeds? What we can do – and what we must do – is prepare and tend the soil. We are to prepare our hearts not only to receive, but to be transformed by, God’s Word.

Of course, this parable made a lot of sense to Jesus’ contemporaries in a 1st century agrarian society. Farmers have always understood the relationship between soil and seed. Farmers understand that they have a real and crucial part to play – that they have to prepare the soil for planting if the crops are going to be any good at all. Preparing the soil never guarantees a bountiful crop. The Son of Man must sow the seed. That being said, if there’s no preparation at all – if the soil isn’t given proper attention – then either little or no harvest is guaranteed.

Farmers, for example, can’t control the weather. And there’s only so much a famer can do about bugs and weeds and drought. And so farmers have to leave some things in God’s capable hands. But what farmers can do – and what farmers must do – is prepare the soil.

So too must the disciple of Jesus. We can do our part – and we must do our part – for God’s Living Word to bear fruit. We must watch and tend the crop, remove the weeds, add water, and pray. Christians have always called these things spiritual disciplines – prayer, solitude, silence, service, tithing, fasting, worship, bible study, meditation, submission, and of course Jesus’ favorite, blogging. A spiritual discipline isn’t a rule. Not one of these things earns us “points” with God. God isn’t a scorekeeper. What spiritual disciplines do is prepare our hearts, make the soil rich.

To switch metaphors, think of sailing. Only God can send the wind. And if God never sends the wind then we’ll forever be stuck at sea. But through the intentional practice of spiritual discipline, we prepare the soil. We put up the sails.

Of course, our God of grace does send wind. God does bring forth a harvest. Think of the Sower. What kind of Sower would sow so recklessly? What kind of Sower would dump seed all over the place, hoping against hope, to bring forth a harvest, even in the most unlikely of places? Do you know any farmer who scatters seed on the path? Or in the thorns? Of course not. Because there’s only One. And that our God is willing, and eager, to sow seeds everywhere is a testament to His grace.

FOR TODAY: Take on a spiritual discipline for the month of October – something small. Maybe you prayerfully read one chapter of the Gospels each day and talk to God about what you read. Maybe you set aside ten minutes in the morning to sit in silence. Or maybe you make your commute to work each day a time to turn off the radio and speak to God. But add something concrete to your spiritual repertoire to prepare the soil, to put up the sails. Remember - God’s grace is opposed to earning. But grace thrives on our effort.

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