[reprinted from March 8, 2010]
– Henry Neufeld
3Listen! A farmer went out to plant seeds. 4And as he was spreading the seed, some fell beside the path, and the birds came and ate it. 5Other seed fell in rocky ground, where it didn’t have much dirt, and it sprouted leaves quickly, because the dirt wasn’t deep. 6But when the sun rose, it was scorched, and because it didn’t have good enough roots, it was scorched. 7Other seed fell amongst the thorns, and the thorns grew and choked it, and it didn’t bear any fruit. 8And other seed fell in good ground, and it bore fruit, growing up and increasing, and it bore some 30 fold, some 60 fold and some 100 fold. 9And he said, let anyone who has ears hear! Mark 4:3-9 (HN)
Before looking at the interpretation of this parable that Jesus gave, I’d like us to spend some time thinking about it as the disciples had to—on their own. I think that Jesus used parables intentionally, and one intention he had was to make us think. The parable can carry more freight even than he told the disciples.
Allow me to assume, for the moment, that the seed can include the prompting of the Holy Spirit in your heart. What in your heart prevents you from hearing the Holy Spirit and acting?
First, we have the seed that fell by the path. What is the problem with the path? It is stepped on and stomped on constantly. There’s no room there for anything other than the path. We can be “path” sorts of listeners to the Holy Spirit—unless the seed is strong enough to break through the trodden ground, it’s going to die. We’ll continue to think we’re OK, because we’re on a trodden path, but we’ll miss what the Holy Spirit has for us.
Second, there’s rocky ground. God’s grace, whether to save us or to empower us, is freely offered, but if we don’t allow it the space to grow, it will choke. Ironically, this can be the situation for two opposed groups of people—those who think they will get everything they need directly from the Bible without the aid of the Holy Spirit, and those who think the Holy Spirit will direct them, so they have no need for study. Either approach is a “shallow dirt” approach that won’t hold up when things heat up.
Third, there’s the thistle-filled heart. This heart doesn’t like 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, “Test everything, keep what is good, stay away from every form of evil.” Often the thistle-filled heart seems lively, if a bit disorganized. The person may seem very receptive. But by receiving everything, this person cuts himself off from receiving the best thing. This is comparable to the person whose mind is so open that their brains fall out. In this case your spirit can be so open that the Holy Spirit falls out—or can’t get in.
Finally, there’s the “good ground” heart. This heart listens all the time. There’s no beaten path that limits what the Holy Spirit can do. The rocks are removed and the soil cultivated, because this heart is looking for fruit-bearing plants that have deep roots and will last. The thistles, whether things that are evil, or even things that are not precisely what God wants, are excluded. There’s maximum room for fruit-bearing!
The result is a spiritual life that bears fruit.