Matthew 13:1-19, 18-23
By Melissa Kramer
The first time I taught on this parable was for Vacation Bible School, I was the lead teacher for the 1st grade class. Which, to this day I can’t believe I agreed to teach the 1st-grade class - it was a large VBS program and I easily had 30 kids in my class. Only for 1 week, but oh my gosh it was exhausting. I don’t remember the other lessons from the week, but this one stands out to me. I think it may be because I can picture it, and the kids were also able to picture the parable in their minds, and because of that they were quiet. Some parables we have a hard time imagining. But, I can picture seeds, rocks, birds, thorns, and soil.
I don’t have a lot of experience in gardening, but I understand the basic principles. My boyfriend has taken up gardening. If you’ve attended some of the recent outdoor Fusion gatherings, you have probably heard him talk about his plants. I’ve watched him learn how to take a seed and care for it until it produces fruit, And I’ve even tasted some of the first fruits from a successfully grown snap pea. Even more recently, there are tiny cucumbers, and what looks like the start of tomatoes.
It’s not easy for a plant to grow and flourish to the point where it actually produces. When I walk out to the garden at the church and see the early beginnings of the fruit trees, I am amazed! I cannot keep plants alive. In fact, I don’t even try because it is so disappointing to discover that I under watered or over watered a plant. Oh well.
Jesus tells this parable of the sower and we picture four different scenarios or types of “believers.”
In the first scenario, seeds fell on a path, but a bird came and snatched them up - I find it funny that in this parable, birds represent “the evil one.” I have issues with birds, if you are curious, ask Morris and I later how we became friends. But, Jesus explains that just like the seeds that are quickly snatched away by birds, some people will hear the Gospel, but the message won’t take root in their hearts. They are exposed to the elements of the world, leaving their faith vulnerable, easily able to be “snatched” away. I mentioned that my boyfriend has taken up gardening. I think most times people often go to the store and buy small tomato plants, or herbs to be transplanted into their gardens at home. And then they care for the plants at home and watch them as they continue to grow. My boyfriend prefers to buy seed packets. His garden started as seeds. When planning his garden, he decided to germinate a lot more seeds than he needed. Eight tomato plants is a little much for a small apartment garden. But he knew that some of the plants would not grow. Even though he took care in planting all of them, and he wanted them all to do well, he knew that not all of them would grow to the point of producing. Not everyone who hears the Gospel, will believe.
In the second scenario, some seeds fall on the rocks. Outside my apartment, there is basically a rock hill and I have seen some grass and weeds attempt to grow, and I have even seen a dandelion or two pop out from out of the rocks. But those dandelions never live as long as the ones that grow in the grass. While some plants do grow in the rocks, they do not flourish, they don’t last long. Jesus says that this is like a person who receives the Gospel with joy, but because they do not have deep, developed roots, they too are exposed to the elements of the world. When troubles arise, that person falls away from the Word of God. This reminds me of youth camp or retreat effect. Back when I was in youth group we would go to summer camps and weekend retreats. On the weekend retreats, we would worship together and hear from amazing speakers. And usually at some point of the weekend, different students from the youth group would share that they made a new promise or new commitment to God. I don’t want to take away from those experiences, because God does transform us and shape us through those types of mountain-top experiences. Unfortunately, those experiences alone are not enough to sustain our faith. We would come home from those weekends and generally what would happen is those who originally made new commitments to God started to drift away. A week would go by and they would still be celebrating what God had done during the retreat. But then two weeks would pass, three weeks, a month, and their lives looked exactly as they did before the retreat. The commitment didn’t last. Now, I can’t know for sure what was happening in their hearts. But maybe, even though they heard and responded to God, they didn’t allow God’s Word to take root in their hearts. There was a barrier, a rock barrier still guarding their heart. God broke through and in a moment, a flower bloomed, but God’s Word was not sustained in their hearts. How are your roots? Do you need to clear out some of the rocks to make room for good soil? Do you need to make room for the Holy Spirit?
I love camps, mission trips, and retreats. Some of my most memorable experiences of times when I could hear God speaking to me as a young Christian came from Vacation Bible School, retreats and mission trips. But I have also learned that those moments can be fleeting. In my experience, those moments have been the catalyst for change and transformation in my life. The real work came when I returned home and it was up to me to put my renewed faith into action through spiritual practices and communion with God. It was up to me to help my roots deepen and develop.
Which leads us to the third scenario in this parable. Thorns. Weeds. I’m not an expert gardener, as I have said. I don’t try to grow things, but from what I understand, weeds are mostly bad. They choke out the other plants. They take over the garden. They can steal nutrients from plants. Trinity has a community garden. Our church is located in a food desert, which means that there is limited access to affordable or nutritious foods. Our free community garden provides fresh produce for those in our neighborhood. In order to care for our garden so that produce will grow and people will have access to nutritious food, we must pull out the weeds from our garden. But what does it mean in relation to the parable that Jesus tells?
At this point of the parable, we have heard the message of the Gospel. We have responded to God’s call. We ask for forgiveness and we commit ourselves to loving God and loving others. We spend time in communion with God. Our roots have developed. They are deep and strong. But, we are only human. In Romans 8, Paul talks about life according to the flesh, and life in the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
I think that this is what Jesus may have meant in the parable. The things of the world will tempt us. Paul often uses the term flesh, not because our bodies are the problem, but because of our human tendencies. Human nature without the Holy Spirit. And this is hard. To let go of our own desires for wealth, to stop defining success in the way the rest of the world defines and seeks after success. But those are the thorns, those are the weeds that choke us out. Those weeds slowly, over time, take away the nutrients we need. At first, it seems harmless, but as life goes on we notice that somehow, wealth, success, relationships, whatever it may be, has become the thing we live for instead of God.
What weeds are growing in your garden? A desire to please others? Maybe you don’t like conflict? I like to keep the peace and please others and do all that I can to avoid conflict. As I have learned over the last few years, staying silent in an attempt to avoid conflict is a weed that is growing in my garden. I can identify the weeds because of the rising tension and anxiety that I experience when I am faced with a situation in which pleasing others or avoiding conflict is in fact in conflict with my faith. Jesus is bold. Jesus does not stay silent and he definitely does not try to please everyone. Loving others and pleasing others are not the same thing. What weeds are growing in your garden? How are they keeping you from growing in faith and love? How are they keeping you from life in the Spirit?
Finally, Jesus describes the fourth scenario- seeds that fall on the good soil, free from weeds. These are the seeds that grow and bring forth grain. Jesus says “the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit.”
Continuing in Romans chapter 8, Paul writes “9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
Life in the Spirit is the soil we need. God’s Spirit brings life and peace, and fruit. But we are still plants, we are still exposed to the world. Weeds and thorns will still grow around us, trying to pull us away from life in the Spirit. Hopefully, our roots are deep and strong. When the ways of the world bring sorrow and turmoil into our lives, when we see the weeds growing in our garden, we seek out the Spirit, our true source of nutrients. We seek out ways to love God more fully, we love and serve our neighbors and learn how to do so better. We allow Christ to guide us through life. To be the seeds that produce fruit, we must set our minds on Christ and the things of the Spirit, and we must protect our gardens from weeds.
Yes, this parable is one that I can picture. I must be rooted in God’s Word so that I might produce fruit. But picturing it and living life that way are two different things. Hear the words from Psalm 119: 105 Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. 106 I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws. 107 I have suffered much; preserve my life, Lord, according to your word. 108 Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws. 109 Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. 110 The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts. 111 Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. 112 My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.
It is clear from the parable, from the words written to the Romans by Paul and from the Psalmist that our faith is to be rooted in Christ. In order to grow we must seek out to live by the Spirit. So I would like to leave you with this parting question, how do you stay rooted, how do you live life, in the Spirit?
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