A Survey of Soils

- Luke 8

A Survey of Soils – Luke 8

Whether we read through Matthew’s eyes, Mark’s quick reference, or the narrative of Luke, the parable of the “horrible farmer” is one that grips our attention. Many of us grew up hearing about this farmer who scatters seed just about everywhere. As kids we sang songs about him. As adults we read the story and may wonder if the farmer is drunk or just careless. Who throws seed, precious, valuable seed, on a footpath? What hope does he have of anything growing up in the rocks or among thorny weeds?

The Sower here is not the ideal image of a farmer; no matter which century he lives in.

Yet this is the image Jesus chose to use in His story. If perplexing it is to us, how much more ridiculous would it have been to imagine in first century Palestine; a culture and a land that hung its very survival on the harvest of its crops?

Essentially though, Jesus is less concerned about the farmer and more focused on the soil in His story. The farmer scatters seed everywhere because the soil is all the same… what matters is what else is in the soil along with the scattered seed.

In Jesus’ parable the soil is the human heart.

Some hearts are impenetrable (the hard path); nothing is able to grow there, not with the dryness and hardness. In fact, even if that ground were to be tilled up and softened the farmer would have to guard it to keep the birds from stealing the seed.

Other hearts are shallow and rocky. The rocks prevent any real harvest since the plants can’t survive long without moisture, deep nutrition, and deeper roots.

Concerning the third soil, Jesus’ audience probably didn’t envision these seeds being thrown into the middle of a living weed and thorn patch; then again this farmer doesn’t seem to care where he throws his seed. By the time the farmer would be scattering seed, the thorns would have had to endure a long, hot, very dry summer which probably left the weeds withered and dead. The farmer is scattering seed among dead weeds. The more accurate depiction here would be that of good seed competing with bad seed. The implications of this picture hit a little closer to home:

Our lives may look pure, but there are weedy seeds in our soil.

In fact, we may look clean and pure but it won’t take long to realize that weeds are growing up alongside us, choking out our life source.

And then there is the good soil. It is pure…. full of nutrients… nothing hindering the plants to take root and bear fruit.

That leaves us with verse 10:

He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

‘When they look, they won’t really see.
When they hear, they won’t understand.’”

What in all Gehenna does Jesus mean?

No matter which soil you judge yourself to be, the soil in and of itself is all the same. The differences lie in what is added to it (rocks, weeds, or people trampling). How do these difference come about? Dr. Mark Moore suggests this simple idea:

“How do these differences come about? Through hearing. Not the simple physiological performance of the ears, but the humble acceptance of the heart. The word of God must be obeyed and not just heard. In fact, in Hebrew culture, ‘to hear’ also implied obedience. The soil is potentially good in each human heart. The difference is in the will. This is the meaning of the idiomatic phrase: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’”

So why didn’t Jesus just say all this?

As far as His Jewish audience was concerned… He did. They may not have understood everything He was saying, but His listeners had a firmer grasp on the illustration than we sometimes have. Centuries removed and culturally antithetic, we are left with questions about why Jesus begins speaking in parables and why the stories in particular sound so strange.

Jesus is teaching from a boat on the Sea of Galilee. The Twelve disciples and a few close friends are with Him. When they see the bewildered looks from the crowd the disciples wonder why Jesus is confusing them with parables. This was not His normal style up to this point.

So, the disciples speak up in the middle of Jesus’ dialogue and ask what we are all wondering:

“His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’”

In his message, Pastor Mitch touched on the fact that parables had, in many ways, a double purpose; they teach us a spiritual truth through a story… BUT they also conceal a spiritual truth from people who are unable or unprepared to hear such a truth.

Confusing?

A bit.

But God has a purpose in all that He does.

Have you ever read a passage of Scripture before and saw something new in it? Even though you had heard the story, read the passage hundreds of times before, new information seems to leap off the page. Perhaps you have never experienced that, but many Christians have. The Scriptures haven’t changed. Those words were always there, but for whatever reason we missed it before and now our eyes are open.

We often have a tendency to get so enamored with little details that God conceals them from us until we understand the big picture.

Jesus did the same thing here in this passage. He has just been speaking and preaching to a group of religious leaders and crowds who in many ways were the hard soil. Their ears were closed; their eyes veiled over. They were filled with unbelief and doubt, not a passive doubt looking for faith… but an active doubt looking to “catch” Jesus in a mistake to defend their disbelief.

Jesus is fed up with lack of faith from the Jewish leaders so He begins to use parables. How do I know this? In the middle of this discourse Jesus drops a passage from Isaiah 6 that, when read, quickly becomes obvious that Isaiah was going to deal with a people who are stubborn and full of unbelief. Not much has changed, even up to today.

Jesus quotes this passage to show us all that the reason He conceals truth is in response to a lack of faith. As an individual turns his back on Jesus, Jesus turns his back on the individual through parables. This is a fulfillment of the biblical principle that unbelief not only brings about judgment, it also destroys a person’s ability to perceive truth.

Without faith, it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God. (Hebrews 11:6)

The journey of life always takes us through hard paths, rocks, and weeds but Faith is always the door to understanding deeper truths.

Jesus is not as much concerned with people understanding all of these principles if they miss the whole point of His life. But to those who have accepted Jesus and are following Him, He offers these deeper principles of life to walk in… through parables.

Parables allow Jesus to speak spiritual truth without argument. The Scribes and Pharisees are confused and walk away; meanwhile people eat up Jesus’ words and try to discern what He is saying.

The secrets or… mystery of the Kingdom is not something that must be figured out; it is something that must be revealed. Once the mystery is revealed, it is easy enough to understand.

It would be unfair to the text to attempt to interpret and pull out application without referencing how Jesus’ sermon ends in Luke’s account. Skip down with me to verse 18:

“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.”

A principle found elsewhere in the Scriptures (ie: Proverbs 1:5, 9:9), it applies to a number of areas; how much more would it apply to the words of Jesus’ teaching.

The more we listen, the more we are able to understand. The less we listen, the less we are able to understand. Think of it like a savings account or a Roth IRA, the more money someone is able to save or put into it, the greater the interest compounds: the more money is earned.

Likewise, those who have been listening to Jesus’ teachings up to this point and have been taking them to heart don’t find it very difficult to understand what Jesus is really getting at with these stories, but to those who the words have fallen on hard soil, walk away disillusioned and confused.

The parables are meant to reveal deeper truths of the Kingdom of heaven than mere preaching could never truly accomplish, while at the same time conceal the truth from those who are only attempting to subvert Jesus and His Gospel message.

So what stands in your way of hearing and obeying Jesus’ words to you?

A question only faith can reveal the answer to.

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” (John 6:29)