The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. Oh God, help me to stand in awe at your creation, and help me to see your hand in everything that exists—it is all yours. From enjoying my morning cup of coffee to working diligently at my vocation, help me to appreciate your presence—your very real presence through the holy spirit. As I move about today through the mundane tasks of life, help each moment to be one of worship and spreading your love and light to all I meet. Remind me to smile at the cashier at my grocery store and tell her what a good job she’s doing. Stir me to show gratitude for those who serve me throughout the day, including my friends and my husband. Uproot any sense of entitlement from my heart, and replace it with gracious humility and patience. Transform me through the presence and power of your word.
Read Mark 4:1-20 in your favorite version of the Bible. (I typically read the English Standard Version.) Read it two or three times through, at least once very slowly, contemplating each sentence. If you can read it aloud once, do that—something often takes on even more significance when I hear myself reading it aloud! Note ideas or phrases that stir you. Before you continue reading my reflections below, give your own mind a few moments to just chew on the text. What might God be teaching you through this passage?
My pen and highlighter were very busy as I went through this passage this morning. Here are a few of the things I noted.
“Again he began to teach by the sea.” By this point, Jesus seems to have a regular ministry pattern, and people know it, so “a very large crowd” is gathered. Also, he was teaching them “many things.” In this chapter, Mark reports four parables, but I’m sure there were more. They were out there for hours!
Then he began talking about seed. I circled “some seed” (v. 4), “other seed” (v. 5), “other seed” (v. 7), and “other seed” (v. 8). What is this “seed,” exactly? Verse 14 tells us that the seed being sown is the word. As in, God’s word. But which of God’s word? There are a lot of words in God’s word!
I don’t know this for a fact, but my opinion is that when Jesus is referring to God’s word, he means all the Law and the Prophets. The reason I think this is that, when Jesus was speaking, that was God’s word. There was no New Testament. And in another passage of scripture, Jesus interpreted that all the Law and the Prophets could be summed up, “Love God with every fiber of your being, and love your neighbor.”
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:34-40 ESV)
All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Of course, we also have the benefit of the New Testament, full of more beautiful teachings about the kingdom of God. And when Jesus referred to the seed—the word—I believe he was also talking about that, as well as the good news of the kingdom, that beautiful news of invitation and acceptance based on God’s mercy and kindness through faith in Jesus Christ, not our own merit. This is the stuff of his sermons, and it is, I believe, God’s word.
So one question I have is, who is doing the sowing here? Is it God? Or us?
My take is that it’s both. Certainly, God is the master gardener of the human heart. He is God of the soil, God of the rain, Lord of the harvest. But in another passage, Jesus says this:
“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:34-38 ESV)
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:1-2 ESV)
Letting the Bible teach the Bible here, I understand Mark 4 through the lens of John 4 and Luke 10, and considering all of these passages together, I conclude a few things.
First, we are to be sowers of God’s word. We who are in Christ are called to faithfully scatter wholehearted love for God and our neighbors. We do this by our words and by our actions—by giving God credit, thoughtfully sharing the hope we have because of Christ and embodying a kingdom that is counter-cultural in which everyone flourishes and thrives, and by extending love, mercy, kindness, and contagious joy to others.
Second, we are to sow broadly and generously. The sower here throws the seed of God’s word everywhere, on all sorts of soil (referring to the condition of the human heart toward God’s word.) We cannot know the “soil condition” of a person’s heart—only God knows that! So we do our job of faithfully scattering, and leave the rest to God.
Third, when the seed lands in “good soil,” there is evidence. “Those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” This causes me to look at my own life: is there evidence that God’s word is finding good soil in my own heart?
The last thought I have on this is my own conjecture, based on the laws of horticulture. Over time, through cultivation, soil can be changed. The soil along the path, which is not ideal for a seed to take root, can be tilled and turned so that, over time, the seed can take root. Rocky ground can be tilled as well, and thorns can be uprooted. All of the things here that seem to hinder the seeds from flourishing can be changed, over time. Now, the question, of course, is, who can change the soil? I believe, based on the passages above, that God works through his people to cultivate human hearts, so that, over time, even so-called “bad soil” can be turned, and can become a place where the seed of the gospel can flourish.
Using the metaphor of a garden, before seed can be sown, the soil must be cultivated. When it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus, sometimes our first step is to cultivate the soil of the human heart. Borrowing a phrase from a missionary I once met, I find that this is often done by “loving people until they ask why.” Scatter the seed broadly—but don’t neglect the soil.