The Soil is People
"Soylent Green", a 1973 sci-fi movie, is set in 2022. The crowning, shocking revelation is that the new miracle food source is made from dead people. Charlton Heston being carried away by police keeps crying out to spectators: "Soylent Green is people." Jesus tells the parable to all, but the explanation He only tells to those given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, that's you, and the shocking revelation is: The soil is people!
The parable shows you 3 kinds of people. Though there are 3 kinds, there is only 1 result. Unbelief. No matter how you get there, unbelief is unbelief. Some is not better than others. One is not closer to the truth. The soil is people and there are different ways they receive the Seed which is the Word of God. But unbelief of it always results in one thing: unfruitfulness. The Good Seed does not bear the fruit of everlasting life. But unbelievers get there different ways.
Some are hardened to the Word. They think as they hear or read the Scripture, "Yeah, yeah, we're all sinners. Yeah, yeah, there is no one righteous. We all fall short of the glory of God." They're hardened to the Word. Not convicted by the Law, they can't be comforted by the Gospel. And the Good Seed of the Word hits their rock hard heart and bounces off. Others do receive the Good Seed of the Word and receive it with joy. They're saved. They're sins are forgiven. They no longer need to be afraid of coming judgement or of everlasting death. They're so happy, so relieved. They've been reprieved; They've been pardoned. Their sentence of everlasting death has been commuted to everlasting life! Up springs the plant of the Christian Life growing wildly, frenetically, but no deep roots are being formed, and so when the sun rises, it scorches their Christian life to death. Still others grow further still. These people receive the Word in enough soil to grow and even begin to fruit, but they live among thorns which grow faster still and choke the Christian life right out of them.
The soil is people, so what sort of soil are you? I sometimes listen to the "Natural Gardener" on Saturday or Sunday morning on the drive in. Often times the answer to a caller's question is to get their soil tested. Any real nursery can do that. Some government agencies do too. So what sort of dirt are you? Only the explanation of the parable leads us to ask this. Just hearing the parable wont' do it. It's only when you hear in the explanation of the Evil One , trouble and persecution because of the Word, and of worries and wealth choking a person into unfruitfulness that you ask what sort of soil am I?
I can test you. When you look up at the rafters above you here, do you see Satan perched like a crackle ready to snatch the Word after it bounces off the hardpacked soil of hardened hearts? If not, you don't believe Jesus' words that the Evil One is ever at hand, like so many birds ready to snatch His Words away. Luke's record is scarier still: "The devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe it and be saved." That's you; if you don't see the Evil One like a big, black crow, sitting above you ready to dive in.
Soil is people and you're shallow soil if all you expect from Christ is joy, joy, joy. Of course, there's that. The angel comes on the first Christmas preaching to the shepherds "good tiding of great joy, which shall be to all people." The Word doesn't just bring joy, however, but trouble and persecution. In other words, those not receiving the Word at all won't have these troubles and persecutions. They come "because of the Word", Jesus says.
Going by what I hear, see, and read, the most unpopular thing you can be today is a conservative, Bible-believing Christian, of any denomination. Our believing that there is no salvation other than in the name Jesus' (Acts 4:12) is shockingly intolerant. Our believing that people deceive themselves when they think fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, drunkards, or thieves can inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10) is at best unenlightened or unwoke and at worst racist. Out believing that abortion is murder, that God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days, and that angels, demons, and hell are real is primitive religion at best and at worst the sin of sins, unscientific. If you confess any of these publicly, openly you will bring trouble and outright persecution on yourself. If you fall in the face of it, you know what kind of dirt you are.
Soil is people and you're soil that has thorns growing in it if the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of riches choke off your Christian life. Notice Jesus says, "It, the Word, becomes unfruitful." You know how tomatoes put on those little green ones at first. That's where we're at but then Ray LaMontagne sings his plaintive song, "Worry, worry, worry, Worry just will not seem to leave my mind alone." "When does the worry end?" asked a shipwreck survivor waiting to hear news of her husband. When will the coronavirus stop chasing me with 10,000 worries about myself, my loved ones, my kids and grandkids. And you don't think riches deceive me? Hah! Jokes on you. Every retirement show, ad, article I read tells me riches are my only hope in old age.and I believe it, and I invest more in this life than I do in the next. So you see I'm not even soil, let alone rich potting soil, or Miracle Grow Garden Soil, I'm just dirt. I'm Pig-Pen; a cloud of dirt goes where I go soiling everything. I don't just track in dirt; I am dirt.
Wait a minute there is more. Jesus speaks of good soil. Good soil receives the Word of God with understanding and produces a Christian life way out of proportion to "On What has Now Been Sown." What makes soil good? We're told each Ash Wednesday, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." That's from Genesis 3:19. "Dust" can be translated "dirt." Adam the first man shares a common root with Adamah. Genesis 2:2 says, "The Lord God formed man or adam of dust from the adamah". The Second Adam, God the Son, descended into our dust, dirt, soil through the Virgin Mary's Womb in order to raise it with Him all the way to heaven itself. Dirt being exalted to heaven, you have to admit is way out of proportion to what soil like us could expect.
In the explanation of Matthew we're told in a round about way that the Seed is the Word of God. Jesus call it, "the message about the kingdom." In Luke, He's plainer spoken: "The Seed is the Word of God." What makes soil good? Our deciding to be good soil? Our determination to be good soil and this time I mean it? No, the Word of God: His Law and Gospel, His teaching of the truth of sin and the surprise of grace, His proclaiming the miracle of creation and the greater miracle of recreation, His preaching condemnation and justification into our ears, that's what makes good soil. In the Parable of the Fig Tree in parabolic language the Jesus figure turns up the soil around the barren fig and fertilizes it. There you have it: Law and Gospel.
Jesus by means of this text shows us on our own we're nothing but sinners to the rock hard bottom of our hearts and God's Word left to ourselves would bounce off and Satan would snatch it away. Left to ourselves we will turn tail and run from the Word when troubles and persecution rise because of it. And on my own the worries of this life and if it weren't coronavirus there would be another; I have a bottomless pit of them will choke off my faith, my trust, my hope in God. Left to my own devices, I will lean on the riches of this life even though Scripture repeatedly says they are fleeting (Pv. 23:5) and I should not chase after them. Could the Lord be any clearer than 1 Timothy 6:9? "Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition." Yet, like an endless aching need, I desire the very thing that will choke the Christian life right out of me.
Thanks be to God, the Lord has not left me to my own devices, but sent His only beloved Son where no man has gone and come back from before. He went into the Devil's fortress and rescued me from Sin, Death, and the Devil's power. After living the holy life, I couldn't even dream of, so soiled are even my dreams, He went to the cross in the dirt I'm made of. But His dirt was holy and pure and smelled of heaven. Yet, He went to hell on that cross for 3 hours that lasted an eternity. Don't you like how The Litany spells out what Jesus did for us and our salvation? "By Thy baptism, fasting, and temptation; By Thine agony and bloody sweat; By Thy cross and Passion; By thy precious death and burial; By Thy glorious resurrection and ascension." These are the things of our salvation and by the written, the audible, and the visible Word of the Sacraments, these things are pushed into our ears creating the faith that makes them fruitful to us.
The Gospels use 3 different words for what the good soil does with the word. Mark says that it "receives the Word" for itself. Matthew says that it "is ever hearing and understanding the Word" and Luke says that it "it holds fasts the Word for itself." The soil is people! The soil is people! And you know what kind of people you are by how you receive the Word. Are you receiving the Words Jesus speaks today for yourself or do you think, "So and so needs to hear this"? Are you ever hearing and understanding, that is putting things together? Seeing, "O I'm hardened soil, rocky soil, and thorny soil, but Jesus became dirt to do the miracle of making me good soil." Are you holding fast the Word for yourself? Can you see Satan's one mission is to snatch that from you?
The Roman persecutors of Christianity quickly learned that killing them did no good. Church Father Tertullian famously said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." So, instead Rome went after the Scriptures, the Word. We live in a country where we're free to read, hear, learn Scripture. May we be the soil that Christ redeemed us to be, and we'll be bigger and more fruitful than Jack's famous Beanstalk. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (20200726); Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23