The Four Soils

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9
Gospel: Luke 8:4-15

So a farmer is sowing some seed, scattering it on the ground. The birds fly down and pick some of it up and it doesn’t even get a chance to sprout. Some of it falls by the wayside, but some of it falls into better ground. Some of it falls in rocky soil. That’s better than the wayside; at least in the rocky soil, it sprouts. Some of it falls into weedy, thorny ground. That is still better than the wayside and better than the rocky soil, because here it sprouts and even puts down some roots. But only some of the seeds fall into good soil, sprouts, puts down roots and bears fruit. As Jesus says in this parable, the seed is the word of God, the truth, which God teaches us through His Church, through his Scriptures, through the Saints. And there is no difference between this seed and that seed. The seed that the birds ate is the same that sprouted in good soil and bore fruit. The difference is in the soil.

The difference is in the human heart that either receives or rejects the word of God. And today I think it is important for us to recognize that there is some ground that is not even mentioned in this particular parable. Human nature being what it is, our habits being what they are, whenever we see a parable we want to see ourselves as the guy wearing the “white hat”. The bad guy that wears the “black hat” and does all the bad things, we want to look at that as being “them.” Not “us.” And so we look at this parable and obviously we want to see ourselves as being the fertile soil. And so when we look at all the bad soils we automatically conclude, “Well, that must be those people on the outside. Those people who don’t want to have anything to do with God, those that thumb their nose at church and don’t even show up.”

And so I think it is important to refocus ourselves and to realize that there is a plot of ground that Jesus didn’t even mention in this parable, because it wasn’t his point. And that is that there is ground that is even farther out than the wayside, which the farmer did not even sow. See, a farmer farms his whole plot of ground; some falls on the ground and some falls by the wayside, but none of it falls three miles away by the river. Nobody accidentally drops seed in the next county away from where the field was. A person who missed vespers because they were out drinking with their buddies, getting drunk, slept in until ten o’clock this morning because they had a hangover, who finally got up and decided to go hang out with his profane buddies and do whatever he wanted, and did not hear one word about the gospel, did not read one verse from the scriptures, did not hear one once of truth preached in the sermon: that is not somebody on whom the seed has been planted.

Now maybe it was, five years ago. Maybe it was, ten years ago. But yesterday and today no seed is even being planted here. He is not even near enough to the field to have the seed planted. So these are not the people who are referenced by the bad soil here. To even get to be bad soil, you have to be close enough to the Church to have the seed planted, to have the word of God preached to you, to hear the truth, which means you are likely one of those guys that already thinks of yourself as one of the good guys, as the “good soil”.

So all the people we would like to put into that category of “bad soil” are not even the point of this parable. They are not even getting the seed planted on them on the wayside, and the birds eating it up. They are even farther out, where the seed right now is not falling. And the fact that those people exist, whether they are in a tribe somewhere, or in the jungles of Africa, or whether they be an Aborigine in Australia, or whether they be somebody right here in Southern Illinois who simply has no connection to the Church, they do not read the Bible; they do not hear the gospel preached.

That means that you need to be the one–if you know anybody like this in your life–then you need to be the one scattering the seed, because it may not be bad ground. It may just not have had any seed thrown on it for a while. Maybe five or ten years ago some seed was planted, but their heart was like adamant stone, like the rocky soil in the parable. But you don’t know what erosion that the suffering of this life–the consequences of sin–have done in battering that stone, converting it into a soft and sandy soil that water can soak into, that fertilizer can soak into. And maybe it is just waiting for that seed. Maybe God has already taken the filth of their sin and converted it into fertilizer. So if you will just go and plant that seed, maybe it will not be rejected again, but it will sprout and it will put down roots, and it will bear fruit. And that person will come to Christ. Do not assume that because somebody has no connection to the Church that their heart is totally hard and unreceptive. Maybe nobody has done any planting recently.

But this parable is not for them, this parable is for us! Those of us who do have the word preached to us, those of us who do read the scriptures, those of us who do have the seed of the word of God planted in our hearts. And those of us who have the riches of the word of God planted on our hearts: There is still good soil and bad soils.

The first of the bad soils is by the wayside. The seed is planted, the word of God is placed there, but it doesn’t even have the chance to sprout and to put down roots, because Satan comes by and snatches it up; the birds eat up that seed before it even has a chance. What if we come to church and the word is preached and it is planted on our hearts but we are talking to one another instead of listening to the word of God? What if we come into God’s house and we cry or we throw a fit, we throw a tantrum right in the middle of church, we do not listen to our parents, instead of listening to the word of God? What if we came into church, and it is not a matter of closing our eye and resting our eyes, but what if we just fall out asleep? You are dead asleep. You are dead to the world. Well, physically you could be present, but you can still be missing the word of God that is being preached. Or you can be alert as possible, you can have your eyes wide open, you can be facing in the correct direction, but your mind can be absent, you can be daydreaming. You may be right here looking at me but you keep getting sidetracked, because you really want to think of finances, you really want to think about that stuff you have to work on for your job, you are really preoccupied with this family situation, with this relationship, with all this other stuff that is going on.

These are the sorts of things that for that period of time turn our hearts into that “wayside”. The word of God goes out, the seed is planted, but it never gets a chance because you never listened, you never heard it. It went out, it came to you, and you were physically present. But an hour or two hours from now and we are sitting at lunch and I mention, “Hey what was the sermon about today? Hey, what scripture did he read today?” And you say, “Ummmm, yeah, mmmm I, I don’t know. I really wasn’t paying close enough attention to you to even remember it an hour later.” And that’s seed that falls by the wayside, the birds eat it up and it never gets a chance to sprout and to bear fruit in your life. You physically were in the right place, but you did not hear, you did not listen, you did not receive it.

Now there is better soil, it’s called the stony rocky soil. It’s very shallow, and how can this be better soil? Well, it says in scripture that we just read–in the gospel of Luke today–it says that the rocky soil is for those that hear and receive it with joy. You’ve not just heard it and it went in one ear and out the other. You actually heard, received it, and you thought about it, and usually by this point we are thinking, “Man, this person is a really good Christian. You know the bad people are the ones that stay out of the Church. The bad people are the ones that maybe show up for church but don’t pay attention. But man, if you’re here, then you’re in the right place. If you actually show up for church, and you’re listening, and not only are you listening, you are agreeing with joy, you are hearing every word that’s preached, and you are saying ‘Amen’ and you are agreeing with this, this is awesome.”

Right here at this point is when we pat ourselves on the back and say, “That’s it, I’m a good Christian. I showed up for church, I listened, I could tell what they were talking about, and I agree with it.” Well, that gets you from being “wayside soil” to being “rocky soil”.

It says here in scripture that the “rocky soil” people hear it and receive it with joy and the seed sprouts, looks like a healthy little plant. But then when the midday sun beats down on that poor little plant that has no root, it dries up, it shrivels, crumbles into dust. There is nothing left. The ground is left just as barren as before the seed was planted. Have you ever been in church and heard the word of God preached and you understood every word, and you even said “Amen” and agreed with every word, but then you went home slept it off and got over it? That is “stony soil”. It sprouted, but just for a couple of hours. You got excited about it, maybe even for a few days, but then you forgot about it. You didn’t give it any place to actually put down roots and bear fruit in your life.

Now there is another kind of soil. We have looked at the “wayside”, we have looked at “stony soil”, but there is also “weedy, thorny soil.” Now this soil is deep. It is not like the rocky soil. This soil is rich and fertile, not like the rocky soil. In this soil, the seed not only sprouts, but it puts down roots, too. And there was still no fruit, because the cares of this world, or the weeds and the thorns, choked that little plant and strangled the very life out of it.

Now remember what we said earlier: the people that are totally outside the Church, that are involved in sin and debauchery and reckless abandon in turning their backs toward God, those are not the people we are talking about here. So the cares of this life, those weeds and those thorns: that is not adultery, that is not homosexuality, it is not theft, it is not drunkenness. Those are for the people that aren’t even getting planted on.

The cares of this life are the good things that can be the enemy of the best things. The cares of this life are things like “What am I going to eat, what am I going to drink, what am I going to wear, what clothes am I going to put on? My career, my job, the work that I do, my employment. My relationships, the fact that I have to deal with this person that I am married to, I have to take care of this kid that belongs to me. And I have to go and run this errand for my neighbor.” The chores and the everyday tasks that we need to do to take care of our homes and vehicles, our hobbies, our entertainment–all of these things are the cares of this world–things that pertain to life, here and now on this planet.

And none of those are bad things. In fact, to some extent, those are necessary things. But it is so easy to let those things become the only things, to let those things become so primary, so huge, so out of control that there is simply no nutrition and moisture left in the “soil” to nurture the word of God, so that it can sprout and bear fruit in our life. It is not that you’re opposed to the word of God, it is not that you didn’t receive it with joy, it is not that you didn’t hear it. It’s just that you are too busy.

You are so weighed down every day by the stuff that you have to do, the stuff you’ve got to get done, you just don’t end up giving the time and prayer and the focus that is necessary to bring about repentance and change in your life. And these places are where the word of God challenges you.

Now these last two soils–the rocky soil and the weedy soil–are very interesting because they each have things about them that seem good. You see, there is some rocky soil right outside the church here in the driveway: thick gravel, stones, rocks everywhere, but very, very thin soil around the rocks. And if you look at it, you will notice that not even the weeds grow very well there. Even thorns do not grow very well in rocky soil. Shallow soil not only starves the good plants but also the bad. And so the person who has a heart of rocky soil may boast how free his field is from weeds. He may say, “See, I am not encumbered with all the cares of this life, I don’t get all caught up into worrying about my career, I don’t get all caught up into spending time, or thinking hard about relationships or what I’m supposed to do. I don’t get buried into hobbies or entertainment, I am just kind of easy going. Things come, things go. I don’t make any of that stuff central or primary.”

But it is not because this person is truly diligent about pulling up the weeds. It is not because they are careful about which plants are growing in their garden. It is because they have shallow soil that starves everything equally. And yes, it starves the weeds, it starves the tares, it starves the thorns, and it also starves the word of God so that it cannot sprout and grow.

And then the weedy soil, the thorny soil: they boast of the depth of their soil, the boast of how deep their roots are able to grow, the moisture, the fertility. They may walk you through their garden and show you this amazing, this impressive seven-foot-tall plant that they have nurtured, and watered and cared for, and these huge thick leaves, and there is no doubt about it, this plant is healthy. Its roots grow deep. But on closer inspection you realize this plant is a weed. There are so many weeds, so many thorns, that when the word of God is planted it sprouts and it tries to grow, but it is choked up. But boy, there are these weeds that they just pamper, and water and fertilize, and they grow.

Some of us in our lives can point to some “weeds” that we have watered, some “thorns” that we have fertilized, that we are proud of. And you know what, not all weeds are a bad thing. Weeds where you want them are not called weeds; they are called the lawn. But put a piece of grass from the lawn into the garden where it doesn’t belong, feed it, and water it, and nurture it until it takes over, until your garden cannot grow. Then it is no longer grass now, it is a weed. And sometimes we give our energies our efforts and our time over to things that are otherwise good, but we give them a place they do not deserve. We make them so central, so primary, that we end up with these seven-foot tall weeds in our garden, where our tomatoes, peppers and eggplants and all these other vegetables and fruits wither away and never produce anything. Sometimes there are good plants in your garden that you have to pull up or transplant or move out of the way so that the word of God can sprout, and grow, and bear fruit in your life. But thankfully those are not the only soils. We don’t just have wayside soil, and rocky soil, and thorny soil, but there is “fertile soil.”

There are those of us that are soft to the call the Holy Spirit. We are in the right place at the right time, we hear the preaching of the word of God, we listen to it, we receive it with joy, and we allow it to sprout and to send its roots deep. We allow it to change us. We are diligent about rooting out the weeds and the thorns whenever we see that they come in conflict with the word of God.

And in that case, the word of God does bear fruit. It is able to send its roots deep, it is able to bear the scorching sun in the middle of the day, it is not choked out by the cares of this life, and the things that press in on us every day on every side. And the word of God makes this great plant that grows and grows and blooms and bears fruit, sometimes thirty-fold or even sixty-fold. We eat the fruit, the fruit nourishes us, and we take the seeds from that fruit and we go out and begin to scatter the seed again.

Let all of us choose to be the right kind of soil. Let us be here not only in body, but be here in mind and spirit, and let us hang on every word that comes out of the mouth of God. Let’s let the word of God sprout in our heart. Let’s let it send its roots deep, and let’s not be shallow. And let us not allow the cares of this life to choke that, but let us protect that which is growing. Let us be the fertile soil, that we may be fruitful in the Kingdom of God.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is One.

This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, March 10, 2013, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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