All The World’s a Field
Shakespeare is probably best known for the sentiment “All the world’s a stage.” In As You Like it he writes in part: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”. Though Shakespeare is well-known for the thought, you can find echoes of it in the ancients, and it’s probably telling that my generation remembers it more from Elvis singing it in “Are you Lonesome Tonight”, but that’s a 1960 cover of a 1926 original. But all this is really so much falderal, since Biblically speaking all the world is not a stage but a field. Paul tells the Corinthians, “You are God’s field.” And likens the ministry to planting the seed and watering (1 Cor. 3:6, 9). This goes all the way back to Adam being taken from dirt. The Hebrew word translated ‘ground’ is adama. The Hebrew word for ‘man’ is adam. So, we’re all about dirt. Adam is given the dirt of Eden to work even before the Fall, and then sees it cursed by his Fall. All the world’s a field, indeed.
There are differences in dirt. Every year we dug a garden, my mom would reach down and pick up a handful of black, fertile Michigan dirt and say smell this, and I did. It smelled rich, lifegiving. We’ve tried to garden in Texas. East of here, it was possible if you got the rain and could keep animals out. Here the caliche is called dirt, but that seems an exaggeration. Dirt differs. In the Parable of the Sower you have hard, rocky, and thorny soils. In none of them does the Good Seed come to long term fruitfulness.
Parables show the spiritual truth using physical pictures. Hard packed soil is a heart that doesn’t receive the word with understanding, and Matthew says the Evil One, Mark says Satan, and Luke says the Devil is at hand to snatch the Word away. Luke adds, “that they may not believe and be saved.” Rocky Soil is the heart that hears the Gospel of redemption, being saved freely for Jesus’ sake “with joy”. But when tribulation or persecution arise because of the Word, “he quickly falls away.” The last is the saddest. The soil among the thorns is the man who hears the word and even grows. But as thorns outstrip good plants, they choke it out. The spiritual reality is that thorns are both the good and the bad of the world. The worries of physical life and the wealth of it. The reality is 75% of the Good Seed doesn’t produce, doesn’t grow to faith in Christ, doesn’t lead to salvation. Faithful layman usually want to focus on the 75% that Satan has snatched the Good Seed from, those with a shallow sense of the Faith, or those that are choked by worldly worries or wealth. Jesus focuses on the 25% that produces.
All the world’s a field, but I get the stage metaphor too. When I’ve gone to the theater what has struck me is the over-the-top character of the acting. If you’re up close, their movements, speech, gestures seem melodramatic. I see this in the Lord’s field too. The ancients knew of trees that were eukarpa and akarpa. Trees that produced edible, useful fruit and those which produced fruit which was no use to man. Think Texas native pear trees. The use of akarpa in the sense of not having fruit at all is not found among the ancients (Buls, Gospel Texts After Pentecost, A, 28). So when Jesus describes the Seed among the thorns that is choked out as not bearing any fruit, this is startling to his hearers, over-the-top, an unreal situation where a plant would yield no fruit at all.
The Seed is all good. You shouldn’t hear ‘Seed’ in the Scripture without thinking, Jesus. Paul makes this clear. You may not, you can not deny this link. Read Gal. 3:16, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his Seed. The Scripture does not say ‘to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘to your Seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” The Seed of the woman in the first Gospel promise in Gen. 3:15 is the Seed that is sown, and He’s always good. The Evil One, mentioned in our text, has chased the Promised Seed for 4 millennia. Hidden in flesh and blood Israel, whenever He surfaced, the Devil pounced. Here recount the trials of Adam, Abel, Noah, Seth, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and so on. The Promised Seed pops to the surface at Epiphany, and Satan through King Herod says, “Kill it.” At His Baptism, “This is My Beloved Son” the Father proclaims from heaven and Satan meets the Promised Seed in the wilderness inviting Him to kill Himself as an act of faith. Then at the Transfiguration the Father identifies Jesus, the Son of Mary, as the Promised Seed and a demonized boy, and a helpless father and disciples meet Jesus as He comes down from that high.
All the world is a field and the only thing His Church has to sow is the Promised Seed. He alone has what it takes to pay for your many sins so many, you can’t know them all. He alone has an innocent life and so can take your guilty death be damned and die as you deserve. He alone has the means to break the power of canceled sin. You’ve all noted a crack from which a green sprig sprouts and you wondered at it. There is the story of the man who didn’t believe in the resurrection, had his tomb encased in concrete with a sign on it, “Raise this!” Over time a tiny crack developed and into the crack fell a seed and you know the rest. If a seed can do that how much can the Promised Seed do? Jesus answered this question: “I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (Jn 12:24).
Again in the this parable of the world as a field we find another over-the-top note struck. The Promised Seed bears the law’s requirements and punishments for everyone. No one in this entire field of the world does the Promised Seed not redeem, not buy back, not love. Even though 75% are going to give it to the birds, deny Him in affliction, or choke Him with worry or wealth, He nevertheless kept the Law for them, bore their sins for them, and died on the cross for them.
The Sower throws the Saving Seed on rock hard ground, on rocky ground, on thorn-choked ground. I once taught a Calvinist woman. She was well catechized in Reformed doctrine. She had been taught and believed in a Limited Atonement. Jesus only died for the sins of believers. Why? She explained: if not that would mean His holy precious blood, would be wasted. Then invoking the Reformed principle of authority she said, “That would make no sense.” No it doesn’t, but that’s the Gospel: Even when we are ungodly sinners who are impervious to the Promised Seed, even when we are only fair-weather believers, even when we are being choked by worldly thorns of wealth or worry, still the Lord sows the Seed of His holy life and guilty death in our place. He knows 75% is going to be wasted. Still He sows it.
All the world’s a field alright, but it’s all about the Sower. Jesus gives the name of this parable Himself: He says, “Listen then to what the Parable of the Sower means.” He doesn’t call it the Parable of the Four Soils or the Parable of the Farmer. Our insert has Jesus say in the telling of the parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.” That’s wrong. The word ‘farmer’ is not there. It’s the Greek word for sower. The verse reads, “The sower went out to sow.” So, what’s the difference? A farmer is concerned with dirt. A sower is concerned for the seed and the sowing.
Jesus doesn’t sow anything but His holy life and His innocent death. He doesn’t sow anything but the truth that no sinner can stand before God and not be judged lacking. He doesn’t sow a Gospel of doing your best. A Gospel of doing better next time. A Gospel that you’re no worse than anyone else. He preaches the stone cold truth that apart from His blood and righteousness, you’re going to hell. He sows the truth that only in the Promised Seed can you be saved. He is the vine you are a branch. Unless you’re joined to Him, you’re not just unfruitful but lost. And the Sower keeps on sowing all the way to the end time harvest.
The Greek Fathers allude to this passage and speak of men of faith, of the good soil, as being ‘deep rooted” or “many rooted” (Trench, Parables, 75, fn. 33). And Jewish doctors divided hearers into 4 classes with the best being sponges and the worst being strainers (Ibid., 85, fn. 2). But in our Parable the emphasis is on the Sower and the what He sows. In Luke 8:11 Jesus specifically says that He sows the Word of God. The Sower is Perfect and His Seed is too. Now the 3 Gospels describe the good soil with 3 different words: understands Word, receives Word, keeps Word. A How To sermon would outline how to become those things. Oh that anyone could. No, the Sower through what He sows makes the soil good. Look up: Medina Soil Activator. When I got here I tried to amend my soil, make it better, make it good. Nothing worked. Medina Soil Activator actually changed the soil. It’s a West Texas success story. It illustrates the truth that no one changes themselves from bad, poor, evil soil into good. Nobody changes their heart from wicked to new. That’s a miracle worked by the Promised Seed.
The good soil is described with 3 different words, and yes that is what the Lord Jesus, the Promised Seed changes us into: understanding, receptive, keepers of the Word, but note the 3 different results, 3 different yields. The point can’t be that these are big yields because even by ancient standards they’re not. 5th century Greek historian Herodotus says 200 fold is a common return on the plains of Babylon and sometimes it reaches 300 fold. Other scholars have noted a species of maize that returns 400 fold (Trench, 80). The point of the parable is that the Good Seed gets differing results. But the Promised Seed gets them wherever He sows, and so all glory, thanks, and praise goes to Him. You know the adage that if your only tool is a hammer than all the world looks like a nail? Well if all you have is the Seed, then all the world’s a field. And so Jesus through us sows it. Day in day out; 24/7, in season and out. All the world is a field, His field. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (20230723); Matthw 13:1-8. 18-23