As I read the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, I can envision images of various groups of people. We might tend to categorize them as just plain rocky soil; or soil loaded with weeds and thorns; and those lucky ones, lush with healthy soil. Being able to group people accordingly would be convenient, especially if we happened to arrogantly consider ourselves to be fertile dirt. It’s easy to think of the “poor-soil people” as if they had a condition like a receding hair line, over which had no control. But, the uncomfortable reality is that we have good soil potential within us and are inches away from some seriously rocky ground as well. We are not far from the thorns and weeds either. These possibilities are all within easy reach. And depending on the day, or the moment, or the circumstance, either soil can be present.
My love for roses began when I was a child. I can remember the climbing rose outside my bedroom window, impervious to the hostile elements of city dirt. Aside from its incomparable beauty, I especially recall the delicate fragrance that filled the room on summer mornings. And so, when I bought my first house and had a real back yard, I decided I was going to start a garden and plant roses. I was convinced the soil would be perfect since we only lived yards away from a babbling brook. Well this bucolic setting did not live up to its billing: the under-soil was clay and rock, and the stream, eventually taught me more than I ever wanted to know about ground water pressure and flooded basements. I spent hours digging just one hole, extracting rocks and breaking poor quality spades. I persevered and in time, I had a row of beautiful multi-colored roses which I fed and watered faithfully. For a few weeks I took pride in their growth but it wasn’t long before they began to wither, one by one and die. What could have happened? Despite, my relentless tending, I learned that the ground’s inability to drain caused the roots to “drown.” With all my digging and watering, I never amended the soil to properly begin with and prepare it to receive and nourish the plants.
I suppose my initial efforts as a rose gardener efforts can serve as a metaphor for many moments in my life. Sometimes, everything’s coming up roses and sometimes I come up with rocks and wind up breaking things in the process. Sometimes, I just give up and say the heck with it.
Jesus is asking us here to bring in our best dirt and appropriate fertilizer, so that his Way can take root deep within us. This isn’t something that happens by chance, or because we’re fortunate to have good genes. It’s something we work at. We’re the ones charged with tilling our own soil so that the Life which Jesus sows may grow in us, and produce a bounty…even if we wind up breaking a few shovels and spades in the process; there’s no giving up.