T HIS IS a familiar parable. So familiar we think we already know it, already understand it, already practice it, so we don’t need to hear it again.
It’s a parable about how folks respond to hearing the Word of God for the first time. But to interpret this parable as simply about coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus is missing its full significance.
When we open our ears, the parable is relevant to even the experienced Christian. Jesus introduces this story by saying, “Listen!” Jesus ends this parable by saying, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (To hear also means to act on what you hear) Maybe, just maybe, we should listen to the parable with freshly opened ears.
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A FARMER GOES OUT to sow seed. He casts seed in all directions. Jesus is the Sower. The seed is the word of God. The seed falls on three areas that keep it from bearing fruit: a path, rocky ground and among thorns.
Some seed falls on good soil and yields a good harvest. At some time or other we represent each of these soils.
Some seed falls on the path. Many people walk this trail. It has a hard, compacted surface; think of it like asphalt or concrete. Nothing grows, nothing can grow, on the dense dirt. The seeds land and just sit on top of the ground. Birds swoop down, like seagulls following a fishing boat, and eat up all the seed. Every. Last. Grain.
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LUKE, IN HIS GOSPEL, says the seed is trampled on. People walk on what they disrespect, disapproval of, or hate.
Some people trample on the human rights of others. Some people trample on the stars and stripes. Some people trample on flowers in the park. Some people trample on other people to get to Black Friday sales.
We trample underfoot the Son of God, the Word of God, when we rebel against His will!
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THE SEED IS the word of God. Every time God speaks, this parable happens. Every time we read our morning devotional we are part of this parable.
Every Sunday when the Scripture is read, and the word is proclaimed, we have a dynamic experience of the parable of the Sower.
As we sit and hear the word, we represent all kinds of different soils, different ways of responding to what is being said. Week by week, seed is being thrown and different hearts are receiving the word of God in different ways.
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SOMETIMES WE TRAMPLE on the word. The seed never penetrates at all. In Mark chapter 3, we get a glimpse of some of these hard-hearted people — the Pharisees, scribes and Herodians who hear Jesus because “they were looking for a reason to accuse Him.”
They heard in order to solidify their own position, not open to Jesus’ words at all.
Sure, these folks fit the description, but wide is the path. We come to “hear good preaching” but the message never penetrates past the postlude.
Lora Copley, Center for Excellence in Preaching, writes about “consumers of pulpit-craft.” “They study the seed, analyze the seed, take notes about the seed, sing about the seed, even admire the seed, but nothing comes of it. The birds fly off with our opportunity for change. Sunday after Sunday.” (Center for Excellence in Preaching, Beyond the Lectionary Text. Mark 4:1–20)
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IT IS POSSIBLE that we don’t even bother to take the word seriously. We do not want to be changed.
Sometimes we dismiss truth, and the seed lies on the surface. The seed sown on the pathway is snatched away by the evil one before we even get out of the door at church. We have a chat, a bottle of water and so on.
We see who we want to see. We catch up on people’s lives, but the word doesn’t do anything for us or in us. We drive home without the word penetrating our crusty hearts.
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WE READ THE WORD, we hear the word, we sing the word, yet we have “ears to hear” only what affirms us and what condemns another.
Time and again, the Word of God contradicts our business ethics, frustrates our financial planning, competes with our world view. And we do nothing.
We compare the word to our already solidified philosophy of life. When they don’t match, we reject the word — not our way of thinking.
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IN ONE of Paul’s letters, we read a list of these wrongdoers — the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, same-gender relationships, thieves, greedy, drunks, abusive people, cheaters.”
They are “wrongdoers who will not inherit the kingdom.”
Yet, we condemn some, ignore others, and practice others.
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WE WANT TO HEAR all about our best friend’s weekend away with her boyfriend. We keep our golfing buddy’s affair secret. We hoard our money and view greed as good. We condemn same-gender relationships, but Christian men seem to watch a lot of lesbian porn.
We enjoy movies and books whose main characters are “wrongdoers.”
Many years ago, a preacher friend of mine confessed that in reading John Irving’s novel The Hotel New Hampshire, he came up short when he found himself titillated by the possible sexual relationship between a brother and sister.
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THE WORD OF GOD calls us to change, calls us to hear (to hear involves acting). When the seed falls, too often we ignore it. Reframe it. Discount it. Cancel it. Trample it.
We all do it. We all do it. That doesn’t excuse it. “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”