Sitting on the porch, I watch a robin alight on our lawn, a hopeful sign of spring. She pecks in the newly turned dirt and nibbles a seed. My mind rages. “Hey! That’s my grass seed we just planted! What do you think you’re doing?”
Big muddy bare spots dot our lawn now that the snow pack is gone. Yesterday, my housemates and I got out in the yard with rakes and seeds to try to bring grass back to these wounded parts. As the robin eats the seed I realize the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-20) is not abstract. I don’t usually sow seeds over a large patch of earth. The hard rocky path, the birds that sweep down, the brambles that grow up and choke out the good harvest seem like sweet and distant metaphors. But that bird just ate my seed! And there’s nothing I can do about it. Tonight’s rain could flood the fledgling seeds and wash them into the sidewalk. The neighboring high school students could trample over the yard on the way to class, hardening the soil and making it impossible to grow. More snow could fall. In Wisconsin, in fact, that’s quite likely. A whole flock of robins could find our fragile patch of ground and all the seeds would be gone. There’s nothing I could do.
The helplessness of God and the faithful disciple is highlighted in Jesus’ crucial parable. The seed is the Word of God. In our faithful evangelizing we spread the word of God everywhere we go over the ground of our circumstances. Faith in our life meets the often unfriendly and difficult realities of our daily lives. The birds eat it. The seed falls on rocky ground and the shoot sprouts up only to be withered by the sun and die. The weeds strangle out the good seeds and nothing comes of it. My life is busy and full of distractions. I can’t forgive the evils done against me. No one seems to understand. It’s so much easier to avoid helping out and just watch TV. Sickness, grief, loss and depression paralyze me, making it difficult to function. My heart is hard and rocky and full of lots of weeds.
Some scholars say this should be called The Parable of the Different Soils. The point of the story is not really about the sower or even about the seed. God’s good word pours down endlessly abundant with grace. We, however, do not always receive it. Our heart is the soil. Life’s daily grind and sorrows are the obstacles. The point is there are different types of soil—not just in the human family but also over the course of my own lifetime. Sometimes I am obstinate. Sometimes I am distracted by wealth and good times and easy fixes. Sometimes if feels like every day I am starting from scratch.
Actually, every day I am starting over and maybe that’s the point. Each morning I am given the choice to just live today. To give my day to God. To try my best. To not be anxious about tomorrow or depressed about yesterday. I am not being glib here. This is not easy. Sometimes it takes my entire willpower to get out of bed and brush my teeth and not be paralyzed by fear and sadness. I get stuck so often. Every moment is an opportunity to try again, again, and again.
Often, all I see is the seed that doesn’t grow and all the barriers in my ways. But this story is good news! For starters, God is sowing the good word in our hearts. This is the gift of all gifts. Plus, the good soil produces an overwhelming harvest: 30, 60 and 100-fold. Faith sustains us. Love transforms us. There is hope even for my muddy patches of lawn. The good harvest comes even to our rocky hearts.