When a troop leader wants the attention of his troops without formally calling them to attention he barks, "Listen up!" Jesus ends the Parable of the Sower with the familiar statement "He who has ears, let him hear." Then when the disciples ask about the parable's meaning. He says the imperative, "Listen up!"
Listen up about dirt. My mom loved dirt. When she would plant her garden in the spring, I had to smell the dirt of Michigan. It's not like your Texas dirt or the dirt around Austin which is closer to rock than dirt. It was black, pungent, fructifying. But let's be clear that this parable is not about dirt but people. Virtually all the modern translations make it about dirt or the seed. Our insert is typical. It translates Jesus saying about the first sowing, "This is the seed sown along the path." But the word is masculine not neuter; therefore, it's about a person not a thing, not the neuter seed or dirt. The NASB has it right. "This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road."
The seed is sown in 4 kinds of people. People trampled down by life, people surrounded by rocks or thorns, and people fit for the seed. The people trampled down by their sins, by excuses, listen without understanding. The people in the midst of the rocks of life have no spiritual depth, so they listen rejoicing, but the reception is only skin deep and withers quickly. The people in the midst of the thorns of life's worries or the thorns of life's wealth have the new spiritual life of the seed choked off before it bears fruit.
What you don't want to think here is that all people are all 4 kinds of soil. Neither do you want to think that there are ultimately 4 different kinds of people in the world. No, there are only two. There are believers and unbelievers. There is no third group somewhere in between. Jesus is not showing a continuum of soil between trampled and good. No, Jesus is showing you the many faces of unbelief, but He is also showing something more startling than that.
The ancients knew of trees that produced eukarpa: good, edible, useful fruit, and they knew of trees that produced akarpa: fruit that was not edible and no use to man. But here the word is akarpon. Not having fruit at all. This sense is not found among the ancients at all (Buls, Exegetical Notes, A, After Pentecost, 28). So, when Jesus says the seed among the thorns, the one choked by the worries or the riches of this life was "unfruitful," He says something very startling. He states the impossible. All seeds produce some fruit. A seed that produced nothing was unheard of; it was unnatural.
Listen up! There are only two kinds of people: fruitful and unfruitful, believing and unbelieving, saved/damned, found/lost, in Christ/out of Christ. And there is only one kind of seed. Listen up about the seed. To quote the NBA's new slogan in 2001, "It's all good" ( http://www.newyorker.com/ magazine/2001/06/11/its-all-good) And for once, this short phrase is 100% true. All the seed sown by the Sower is good. It's all good when it falls by the heart trampled by life. It's all good when the Sower pitches it on to the rocks. It's all good seed that the Sower casts into the thorns.
And it's all powerful. Look on the Internet. There are lots of pictures where a single seed fallen into a tiny crack in a roadway, concrete vault, or a roof has spouted, grew and split something wide open. The Giant Sequoia, which can grow over 300 feet tall, comes from a seed the size of a flake of oatmeal (giantsequoia.tripod.com).
Look what the good seed does in the text. Look at the power it demonstrates. Sown among inhospitable rocks it nevertheless sprouts there. Sown among thorns that are thick to begin with so that it is difficult for the seed to make it to the ground, it does, sprouts, and even grows there. Behold the power of the seed.
The devil himself is so afraid of just one seed of the Gospel of forgiveness of sins, of atonement, of redemption, of salvation that like a blackbird he swoops in to snatch it from the heart lest it eventually sprout. Look at those horizontal rafters up there. That's where the evil one is perched just looking for the Good News of what Jesus did for sinners to bounce off an un-understanding heart, so he can devour it.
Listen up! The dirt is people; the seed is all good, but the parable is about the Sower. Jesus Himself names this parable. He says, "Listen up to the Parable of the Sower." It's not the parable of the 4 kinds of soil. It's not the parable of the seed. It's the Parable of the Sower, but get this. He's the Promised Seed that sprouted from the pure dirt of the Virgin Mary's womb. All humanity was formed from dirt, came from dirt. In order to redeem us, our Redeemer had to come from that same dirt.
This all ties wonderfully together. In Genesis 3:15 Adam and Eve made a mess, where? In a garden called Eden. After, the Lord came exposing their sin of unbelief that killed them, damned them, and brought death and damnation into the world. But then He makes a promise and it's about a Seed. The Promise Seed is passed on down through sinful people, through fallen dirt until at last His flesh and blood made from dirt is taken up into the Divine Nature in the Person of God the Son.
Now we have the Promised Seed born of a woman, born under the Law so that He might keep the Law for all humanity. But they still had to be redeemed from the Sin, the Death, and the Devil they had sold themselves too by breaking those laws. Redemption costs something. Amazon doesn't redeem a coupon or a code without paying you for it. To redeem us from the just anger of God Almighty, Almighty God the Son humbled Himself to death, even death on a cross. And God promised that anyone who hung on a tree was cursed to hellfire. Could Galatians 3:13 be any plainer, any simpler, any completer? "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse in place of us."
The Promised Seed sprouted from the Virgin's Womb and so He was dirt from dirt, but because He was also the Second Person of the Godhead, He was God of very God. And this One goes out sowing the redemption, salvation, forgiveness, and new life He lived and died for, bought and paid for. And He is so gracious in sowing the seed that sprouts salvation He appears stupid, wasteful.
We didn't need Jesus to tell us that seeds sown on beaten footpaths bounce off. We didn't have to have God the Son tell us that seed cast on a thin veneer of soil over rocks won't last long in the sun. And we didn't need the Wisdom from on high to know that seed thrown into the midst of thorns would be choked out by the much faster growing thorns. So, what is being told us is not information but revelation. The revelation of the over the top graciousness of your God and Savior.
75% of the Good Seed doesn't produce. The world sees this. How many times have you been told, "The church is a bunch of hypocrites?" How many people who appeared to be faithful Christians told you they only go to church for the sake of their kids, their spouse, or habit? How many people have you known who sprouted rapidly into joyful Christians only to shrivel and disappear? Yet Sunday after Sunday, Bible Class after Bible Class, conversation after conversation, the Lord Jesus is sowing the seed of the Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation as if it didn't cost Him anything. O it's free to you; it's free to everyone, but it cost Jesus His blood, sweat, and tears and far worse and far more than that.
The Lord Jesus wills that His seed be in all dirt, in every ear, even dirty ears. Because His seed is all good and only good, it has the wonderful property of a tobacco seed. For all the evils put on the doorstep of tobacco, the plant itself does the wonderful thing of changing the soil it grows in. Most seeds take away from the soil. That's why crops are rotated. Tobacco gives back to the soil; makes it better.
Not one of us is good soil. Everyone of is born dirty dirt. From the womb we come that way, fallen, hardened, rocky, thorny. Our very first thoughts are evil, dirty, says Genesis 6 and 8. We are sinners from the moment of our conception says Psalm 51. Out of our hearts can only come dirt says Jesus in Matthew 15. Not one of us by nature is good soil. No, by nature we are sinful and unclean dirt, either too hard, too rocky, or too thorny to produce anything but unbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice. But the Sower doesn't pass over or by such miserable dirt as me. He sows the good seed. By Word and Sacraments, He plants forgiveness, new life, and faith in us.
Do you see the object of faith here? Do you see what is to be believed, trusted, hoped in? Certainly not amending your dirt so you can make it good soil. Certainly not the fact that the good seed bounces off of trampled dirt, dies in rocky dirt, and chokes in thorny dirt. No, the focus of faith is the Sower. Look what He does. No matter how many times the forgiveness of your sins has bounced of your heart, He sows it again today. No matter how many times He's given you eternal life and you received it with joy only to have it burn up, He's planting it again today in your heart. No matter how many times your worries or riches have choked out new life in Christ, He gives you it again today freely, completely.
The ancient Greek Fathers of the church alluded to the Parable of the Sower by calling men of faith "deep-rooted, many rooted" (Trench, 75). We are to be rooted in the Sower and what He did to redeem us. And like the tap-root of a Pecan we are to penetrate deep into His promise to forgive us. However, you know tap-root plants die if anything happens to that root. So be "many rooted" in Christ. Be rooted in His promises to forgive, never to forsake you, always to provide for you, never to forget you. Have many roots running to the Waters of your Baptism, the Words of Absolution, and to the Body and Blood of Jesus in Communion.
Listen up! Jesus says to reach up to the side of your head. If you find ears there, this message is for you. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (20170730); Matthew 13: 18-23