Horticulture for soul soil
"Behold the sower went out to sow..." Thus began Jesus ministry of teaching in parables, using the common things of the earth to teach the profound mysteries of eternity. Many of us read this parable lightly, having heard it since we were little children, and perhaps having planted a seed or two in soil, in little paper cups in Sunday school. But as I'm pondering the possibility of tearing a big tree out of my front yard and creating a living and thriving garden space instead, I've been thinking a lot about soil over the past weeks, and these thoughts have brought important light to the parable, light that I'd not considered previously.
Before I can understand what this parable is really about, I find it helpful to name what it's not about:
1. It's not about the sower - There's no problem with the sower of the seeds. Of course, this simply means the good news of Christ's invitation to embrace and know life is doing just fine, going out into all the world. While some might care to debate this, the argument is quickly over as we see that absolutely every event in history has the potential of declaring the reality of God's love. Beauty and blessing are intended to point us to Christ. Suffering and ugliness show us our need for a savior. The aching and longing for eternity that CS Lewis describes in "Surprised by Joy" invites us to life. The Bible explicitly invites. Creation declares God's glory and character. Shoot, even movies and music of every stripe can have the effect of calling us to something higher if we'll let them. As the Psalmist says, "His voice has gone out into all the earth."
People who argue that God needs to show the world more revelation are, according to this parable, missing the point.
2. It's not about the seed - Maybe you've planted a garden at some point in your life and you did everything right but the reality was that, sadly, nothing came of it. There's always a chance it was the seed that was the problem, because when the seed is bad, all the preparation and receptivity in the world simply won't bring life where there's no potential for life. But Jesus is telling us, in this story, that the problem isn't with the seed. The seed carries within it the potential for an abundance of life, so much so that beauty displaces ugliness, love displaces hate, and strength castes out weakness, wherever the seed takes root and grows. This, of course, has proven to be true down through the centuries, as the preponderance of hospitals, schools, clinics, reconciliation ministries, housing projects, prison ministries, justice ministries related to slavery, and so many more declare: the seed will bring life!
3. It's about the soil - If there's no problem with the seed, and no problem with the sower, it's clear that the problem is in the soil. That would be you and me friends - we're the soil. This would be depressing news indeed if we believed that there was nothing we could do to prepare the soil of our heart to better receive God's seed. I know strict Calvinists who believe precisely that, believe that we have no power whatsoever to prepare the soil of our hearts to receive what God has to offer, because our hearts are incapable of ever choosing wisely. The problem with this line of thinking is that, if it were true, all the exhortations in the Bible about caring for our hearts, guarding our hearts, choosing life, seeking God, and loving God would be pointless noise, like telling a man with no hands that the key to really living is to play Beethoven Piano Sonatas.
But of course, Jesus does tell us to follow. He does invite anyone who is thirsty to come and drink. He does invite us to choose life. Unless all these invitations are entirely bogus, it appears that we do have some role to play in preparing the soil of our hearts. There are choices we can make that lead to life.
This is what the book O2: Breathing New Life into Faith is all about. If our heart is soil, we're invited to be horticulturists, caring for this soil that the seed which will be sown will be fruitful. We do this by developing intentional habits of silence, prayer, Bible reading, solitude, sabbath rest, generosity, and more. After all, the sower will sow; we know that. The seed will be good; we know that too. All that remains is for the seed to find good soil.
It's the state our heart soil that determines whether, during this Advent season, we'll be Herod (hating Jesus), the Shepherds (seeking, seeing, declaring) or the materialist masses (ignoring Jesus as the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth take over the show).
It's your soil. Get it ready.