One of the fun feature in Mark is that he consistently portrays the disciples sort of like idiots. Like, through the whole gospel, they just don’t get it. Over and over again, the train sort of leaves the station without them. And, yeah, sometimes you read what’s going on and it’s pretty incredible the level of cluelessness. Like, “really guys? Still not clicking for you?” But sometimes, you read the story and it’s more like, “Yeah, that’s weird. No wonder they didn’t get it. Jesus is weird.” This story is one of those times.
Jesus is teaching the people and finally, Mark records what he’s teaching. It’s a parable. About seeds and a sower and different types of ground. And we have the advantage that we know the end of the story. So it’s easy for us, when the disciples ask Jesus to explain himself, to think, “Duh, guys. Don’t you get it?” But if you just read the parable, without the explanation, it’s weird.
I mean, imagine if I came up here one Sunday and for the sermon, all I said was –
“Listen! The beach is full of sand. But for those with eyes to see, you will find shells among the sand. Some broken. Some whole. And among the shells are pieces of driftwood, carried in by the tide.
And among all these pieces is the sea glass, the thing that does not belong, but whose beauty has been revealed by the waves of the ocean and that same sand that polishes smooth.
Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!”
And then I just sat down.
That would be kind of weird.
So you could probably understand why the disciples might be just a little bit confused. Kudos to them, they at least get that this one’s important and they probably should understand it. So they ask. And Jesus seems flabbergasted that they don’t get it. So he breaks it down for them.
The sower – sows the word. Those are the seeds. With me so far?
Ok – the seeds on the path, that’s when the word is snatched away before it even has a chance to settle.
The seeds on the rocky ground, that’s when someone gets super pumped when they hear the Good News, but as soon as things get hard, they quit.
And the seeds in the thorns, that’s just when everything else in life just gets too big and distracting and the Word never really gets a chance to thrive.
But the good soil, that’s the soil that hangs on to those seeds, plants ‘em deep and lets ‘em grow. And just you wait and see what happens.
How is that not clear?!
And don’t you think the disciples were just kind of sitting there thinking, “Is he talking about us? Are we in trouble? Which one do you think we are?” The short answer, of course, is “all of them.”
It’d be really nice for the disciples (or for us!) to be able to say, “I’m good soil!” But if we’re going to be honest, sure sometimes. Sometimes we experience grace or love or forgiveness and it’s so big and so surprising, it changes our whole lives and we’re never the same again. And our lives bear fruit in beautiful and unexpected ways! I’d say more often, though, it’s one of those other situations.
You know, I will openly tell you, I am the queen of good intentions and poor follow through. I know prayer has the power to change my life. Or, it would, if I stuck with it long enough for it to make a difference. I know spending time among the poor and marginalized, and not in a “I’m here to help you” way, but in a “I just want to get to know you” way, I know that is where I will see God most clearly. I know that I have more than I need. Much more than I need. I know I am wasteful and my actions and choices support systems of oppression and global slavery. And I know that faith in God means loving my neighbor more than I love my own comfort. I know all that.
But things come up. I get distracted. Something more interesting comes along. And the Word of God planted in me gets choked out by thorns.
I won’t even go into all the times I miss God completely. Or all the times I’ve gotten super excited about something, only to give it up as soon as I need to invest any real work in it. If I’m gonna be honest, I’m not just one thing. And, more often than not, I’m not the good soil. And I’m guessing, if you’re willing to be honest, you’re not either.
But that’s what parables are. They aren’t meant to be answers, a “one and done” and now you never have to think about it again. They’re meant to make you go, “Wait, what? What is he talking about?” And these parables, they get planted in us, almost…like a seed. A seed that may or may not bear fruit. Or, may or may not right now. But the sower sows the Word anyway. The sower casts the seed over all sorts of ground, some of which doesn’t look very promising at all.
The truth is, the parables are supposed to make us think. Think about ourselves, about our lives, about our relationship with God. But at the end of it, the parables are not about us. They’re about God.
And yeah, if I’m gonna be honest, I’m not always very good soil for God’s Word to take root. Guys, I don’t know if you know this or not, but I’m a sinner. But the parable isn’t about me, or about us. It isn’t a “10-step plan to making yourself good soil.” It’s about our God who never stops casting seeds into the earth. Never stops calling. Never stops proclaiming that Good Word of grace and love and forgiveness. Even when the “results” of all those efforts will amount to absolutely nothing.
God still speaks. God still loves. God still forgives. All the while, God keeps working on all those rocky, thorny places in our own lives. Keeps turning the soil over.
The Good News of the parable is not that some small chosen few will produce amazing results and be God’s favorites.
The Good News is that God is foolishly, recklessly, and extravagantly generous. Throwing that Good Word around like there’s no end to it. Like it’ll never run out.
Still don’t get it? Well, you’re in good company. The disciples didn’t either.
So don’t worry. God will never give up on you. God will never let you go. God will never stop proclaiming that Good Word of grace, love, and forgiveness.
Let those with ears to hear, listen!