Weed and Feed
(Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23)
Teresa and I like to plant things. We enjoy landscaping projects. Every house we’ve lived in, including rentals, we’ve worked outside growing all assortments of flowers, bushes, shrubs and trees. When we lived in her grandmother’s house we didn’t have much of a yard and most of it was in the shade but we figured out what grew well in the shade. In another house, just outside of Houston, we did a lot of landscaping because the house was new and didn’t have much at all so we planted trees. We even had three rose bushes and three climbers. They were a beautiful deep red but I was constantly battling black spot because it was so humid. When we moved to Tyler, the rose capital of Texas, we took another run at the roses and found a very hardy climber that required less work and was amazingly beautiful. We’ve lived in our current house for almost five years now and have discovered another challenge. Deer. The Port Townsend deer will eat anything. Deer resistant means they will eat it after everything else has been consumed. Roses, I’ve discovered, are like crack cocaine to deer. Last year I bought three pricey bushes and planted them in planters on my deck, out of reach of the deer. Try as I may, they start out looking healthy and before you know it they look like they have the mange. I guess the conditions just aren’t conducive to growth. I may take them over to deer-free Edmonds to see if my daughter has better luck as roses seem to do quite well over there. I can at least visit them on Thursdays when we go over to babysit.
This is what Jesus was talking about in our scripture reading for today. This is the parable of the farmer who went out to sow seeds and the four different types of soil upon which the seeds fell and how the seeds responded to the different soil conditions.
Jesus taught through the use of parables which was a common practice at the time. In a parable, you are comparing something familiar to something unfamiliar. Jesus used parables to help the hearer understand a spiritual truth by using everyday objects and relationships. The parable would compel the listener to discover the truth, while at the same time it concealed the truth from those who were too lazy or stubborn to see. To those who were honestly searching, the truth became clear.
In the parable of the farmer and the four soils we learn about the farmer who went out to scatter seeds. We are told that some of the seeds fell on the path which was hard and that birds came and devoured the seeds. More of the seeds fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. The seeds sprouted immediately but when the sun came up they shriveled because the sun scorched them as they had no deep roots to sustain them. Other seeds fell among the thorny plants. They grew for a time but the thorny plants choked them out in the fight for nutrients and sunlight. Some of the seeds fell upon the good soil where they took root and bore fruit producing great yields of 100 to one in one case, sixty to one in another case and thirty to one in another case.
Jesus said that everyone who has ears should listen and he went on to explain the meaning of the parable to his disciples. He tells them that the seed that falls on the path, the hard soil, represents the word of God. The people are hard and although they hear the word they don’t understand it. The bird that comes to devour the seed is the evil one who comes to carry off what was planted in their hearts. The seed that falls on the rocky ground represents the people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. But because they have no roots they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word they immediately fall away. The seeds that fall among the thorny plants refer to those who hear the word but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth chokes the word, and it bears no fruit. Its growth is stunted. The seed that falls upon the good soil refers to those who hear and understand, and bear good fruit producing an abundant crop.
Jesus is telling his disciples that there are many challenges that hinder the development and growth of the Word. There is the evil one who is constantly there to snatch the seeds of truth from those who hear it before it gets a chance to take root. The word, the truth is there, but they fail to embrace it and can’t get their heads around it. We’ve also know people who, when they hear the word, they immediately embrace it with joy but because their faith is shallow and has not yet developed they fade at the first sign of trouble. They encounter opposition or ridicule because of their new-found faith and fall away rather than stand firm. We’ve also seen those people who seem to start out okay but suddenly life gets in the way. They start worrying about things they can’t control or get caught up in the appeal of chasing the false gods of wealth, fame and fortune. The good word that was planted within them gets choked out by these thorny weeds and while they survive they fail to thrive and bear no fruit. Then there are those who get it. They’ve heard the word and thirst for the living water. They understand and are nurtured by the word and as they grow in the word they bear fruit and continually produce crops with a high yield.
The four soils represent the different responses people have to God’s message. People respond differently because they are in different states of readiness. It’s easy to agree with the teachings of Christ and, at the same time, have no intention of obeying his commands. It’s like cheating on your taxes. You know it’s wrong but everyone else does it so what’s the harm. Others find it easy to denounce the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth and do nothing about the inequities because they are not affected. It’s not their problem. Let somebody else do something about it.
So, what, as Christians, do we do? We continue to sow good seeds with the knowledge that not all the seeds will sprout and produce as you had hoped. Sometimes, as a gardener, you have to weed and feed the seeds. You have to prepare the soil and get it ready for the seed to come. The soil, which is our mission field, must be able to recognize us as the gardener and be receptive to the seeds we desire to plant. If not, we will experience what the farmer experienced in Jesus’ parable. Some are hardened, others are shallow, still others are contaminated by distracting worries but some are receptive. We must work to soften the soil and work it so it is deeper and richer. We must do what we can to remove the weeds in our community that make it harder for the seed to take hold. The yields will vary. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t always see results as you faithfully teach the word and live by example. Remember, it is a miracle of God’s Holy Spirit as he uses your words to lead others to him.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, we know you are the master gardener and that we are charged with tilling the soil and planting the seeds of your son’s truth. Willingly, we are your hands and gladly work the fields toiling daily for you in hopes that we can produce a crop with a bountiful yield. Help us to be patient as we work tirelessly cultivating the mission field before us. Use us to break up the hard soil that keeps the roots of your word from taking hold, and to remove the rocks so the soil can be made deeper and more conducive to promoting growth. Open our eyes so that we can see and pull the weeds that inhibit growth and choke out the truth in those who want to see and believe. Excite us as we work the fertile ground and experience the miracle of the Holy Spirit that takes hold enriching the lives of those who are nourished by the word and thirst for the truth of your son, Jesus Christ. We know the harvest is ready and the workers are few. Use us in the harvest in the name of your most holy and loving son, Jesus Christ. In his name we fervently pray, Amen.