For years I have secretly desired to plant and work a garden. Partly because of the random glimpses of childhood memories of me at my grandmother’s house playing in the dirt among the rows of a splendid garden. I can remember sitting on the porch just out of reach of the hot sun with a large bowl in my lap and what seemed to be a never ending supply of peas to shell. I remember sneaking off in the afternoon to the watermelon patch in the hopes that one might be ripe enough to eat. These memories created in me a desire for something I new nothing about except for the fond and fuzzy memories of my childhood.
A few years ago I finally got my wish. I have a nice little garden and a sore back to boot. None of my childhood memories revealed that little tid-bit of information. Grumbling aside, I love to work this garden. All of my rows are up and they look promising. In all I have eleven different types of vegetables growing and most of them from seed. It is an amazing thing to watch a tiny seed grow to flourishing size and produce food for our family. I have been amazed every day by the increase that God has provided in the life of these plants.
There are days when I will go to the garden over and over just to look and admire the growth that is taking place. Once I even took out a packet of seeds and looked at them to remind myself of the tiny thing that produced such a large and healthy plant. I find myself walking up and down the rows inspecting every little detail; in fact I even want the soil in between the rows to look good so I run a rake over it all the time. One could say, “You are a little too pre-occupied with this garden.” Truth be known, you may be right, and my wife may agree with you. No, actually Leigh, Caroline and Luke can often be found with bent backs helping me pull weeds and strangely enough they enjoy it too.
But, I must confess that what has been most satisfying is not that amount of growth that has taken place in these little plants, nor the way the garden appeals to my eyes and my memories. The most satisfying gain to be had from this gardening venture has been a greater understanding and appreciation for the Heavenly Gardener. For years I have struggled with certain aspects of the Bible, parables in particular. Truth is that we are so far removed from the first century culture that forms the context for the New Testament that often times we interpret the Bible in light of our twenty-first century understanding of things.
Take for instance the parable of the Sower from Matthew.
Matthew 13:3-9 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
Many have and still do struggle with the meaning of this parable and more importantly the application of this parable. I have been taught all types of interpretation for this parable. Over the years I have heard pastors dismiss the specific point of the parable because they don’t understand the point of a seed. In this parable there are three elements that appear over and over: the Sower, the seed, and the soil. The sower is the same, the seed is the same, but the soil changes every time.
I haven’t been a gardener long, but I know the point of a seed. A farmer sows seed for the express purpose of producing fruit in abundance. No farmer wants his seed to be eaten up by birds. No farmer desires to have his seed sprout up quickly and die from lack of depth. No farmer wants to have his seed choked out by weeds. Farmers sow seed for the express purpose of producing fruit in abundance. When the seed dies for one reason or another it is clear that this seed and this small plant did not achieve the express purpose for which it was sown. The seeds that flourish and produce an abundance of fruit are those whose life is true. Where there is no life in a plant it withers and fails in its purpose. Those within the hearing of this parable from Jesus would have no problem understanding that in the soils presented only one was a believing response. The other soils though sown with good intentions did not produce the desired effect. Only one soil produced what was intended.
What direct application can be made from this parable and the new found wisdom of a young green gardener? Should we only sow the seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ in fertile soil? Should we adapt the seed to grow in rough areas? For the answer to these questions we must stick to the text. The sower spreads the seed of the gospel in all types of soil intentionally and the seed remains the same. Yes there will be times when it appears that an individual is ripe and ready for the gospel and we would do well to zealously sow the gospel at these times. But, I will save my select sowing and my choice of altered seeds for the back yard. As for me I will seek to sow the good news of the gospel of Christ unaltered in as many soil types as possible, especially the hard and rocky ones and those full of weeds. For, I myself was unpleasant soil and by God’s grace he broke the stony ground of my heart, planted his Word deep in me and provided the increase.
So go and plan out your garden and toil in that endeavor for there is much to be learned. But when it comes to your walk of faith in this world of differing soils, sow the gospel liberally and with good intentions praising the Heavenly Gardener and relying on His abundant grace.