Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I still lived in Edmonton, before Leah and I were married, my sister would often ask me to babysit her kids. She also lived in Edmonton and, as the uncle living in the same city, I was the go to babysitter. When I babysat my nieces I remember my sister saying to one of them right before she left one time, “Turn your listening ears on.”
I did not realize it at the time, but this was an example of the kind of plea that parents make to their kids before leaving them with a babysitter. It’s like a last chance, last hope, begging kind of plea that the kids will behave themselves for the babysitter so that this person might be willing to babysit again. I do it now when we leave our kids with someone. I pretty much beg them to behave and not cause too much trouble for the babysitter.
Anyway, my sister would say this thing to my niece, “Turn your listening ears on.” My niece would respond by kind of twisting her ears, making a “click” sound, and telling her mom that her ears were on now (somehow it eventually turned into a “listening nose,” but I’ve never understood how that happened!). The whole reason for saying this little phrase was that there are different kinds of listening. We can listen to something without paying much attention to it or we can listen to something and really hear it and take it to heart. My niece was good at doing the first kind of listening when the second kind of listening was required. As is often the case with kids (and adults sometimes too), important instructions can be listened to but not really heard. They can go in one ear and out the other without registering in the brain on the way through. In order to really, truly hear we need to “turn our listening ears on.”
In our gospel reading Jesus says his own version of “turn your listening ears on.” Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” This is one of those things that Jesus says when He really wants us to pay attention to what He is saying. Often this kind of thing comes along after a parable that might go over our heads (or straight through them) without us understanding what Jesus is saying. Jesus is telling us here to turn our listening ears on.
What does Jesus want us to listen to? A parable. The parable of the sower. Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear,” right after he has finished telling the crowds a parable about a sower who went out to sow seeds in his field. Jesus wants His hearers, you and me included, to really hear what He is saying here.
The parable of the sower that Jesus tells is really quite simple. A sower went out to sow seed. He threw some on the path or road but it did not grow because the ground was too hard. The birds swooped in and ate the seed instead. Some other seed fell on ground that was filled with rocks, there wasn’t much soil there. The seeds had enough soil to germinate and spring up, but the sun quickly dried them out and they died. Still more seed fell among thorns. That seed germinated and grew up too, it lasted longer than the seed in the rocks, but in the end it was choked out by the weeds. Finally, some seed landed on good soil and it germinated, grew to maturity, and bore fruit. Pretty simple.
We need to ask ourselves here though, what does Jesus want us to hear in this parable? Jesus clearly explains to His disciples and to us exactly what this parable means and what pretty much every part of the parable represents. The seed is the Word of God about His Kingdom. The Sower is Jesus. The soil (both the good and the bad) is the people who hear this word about God’s Kingdom. That means that all of us are the soil and it means that as we put ourselves into this parable we need to think about what kind of soil we are.
Are we like the soil on the path or road? Roads in those days weren’t paved like our roads and up in Galilee where Jesus was they probably weren’t paved with stones either. We’re talking about a dirt path kind of road. A road that exists not because someone mapped it out, but because everyone walked there and the foot traffic from people and animals made a road. Are we like that dirt? Are we so beaten and trodden down by life in this world that we aren’t even able to hear God’s Word anymore? Have we become calloused and hardened against God’s Word? Does the seed, the Word of God, just bounce right off of us and sit there on the surface to be eaten by birds? Does the devil snatch away the seed before it even has a chance to take root?
Or are we like the rocky soil, the soil that has no depth? Does the word of God cause us great joy initially, send us on some kind of uplifting, feel good, high but then let us down when the going gets tough? Do we hear God’s Word, get excited about the message, and then wonder where the good feeling has gone? Do we look for the high all over again and not find it? Do we feel let down when the sermons and Bible readings we hear on Sunday aren’t quite as inspiring and uplifting as they were last week?
Or maybe we are the soil filled with thorns and weeds. Do the cares and concerns of life threaten to choke out our faith that the Word of God has planted in our hearts? When we try to listen to God’s Word in church what other thoughts are floating through our heads? Are we worried about work tomorrow or what might happen when we get home? Are we wondering where the money is going to come from for this or that? Are we distracted by other things? What comes between us and reading the Bible at home? Does day to day life seem more important than God’s Word?
Or, finally, are we the good soil, the soil in which God’s Word takes root, grows up, and produces a crop?
One of my favorite little details about this parable is that Jesus says nothing about how to be good soil. This parable is not a “how to” instruction manual. Jesus does not say, “Try your best to be good soil so that you can hear my words more effectively.” The parable doesn’t even say anything about the sower clearing out the field to get the bad stuff out of there or plowing or tilling or anything like that and it certainly does not say that the soil needs to try harder to be better soil. Jesus does not want us trying to figure out how we can be the good soil. Soil doesn’t work like that, it can’t improve itself. He doesn’t want us to try to figure it out because it is not our job.
Many things about us and around us make us like the soil that is totally unsuitable for the Word of God. So much of who we are and what we do makes us an unfit place for God’s Word to take root and grow. And yet, in spite of who we are and what we do, God’s Word, the seed, finds a home in our rock hard, stone filled, thorn infested hearts and takes root and grows. Our Old Testament reading today said this about God’s Word and it’s power:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
God promises here that His Word will do what He sends it to do, it will not come back to Him without doing the thing that He sent it to do. This is the power of God’s Word. God’s Word has the power to break into rock hard hearts like ours and make faith. This is what God’s Word has done in us.
The parable of the sower is not about the soil, it is about the sower and His seed. It is about Jesus and the Word of God that He brings to us proclaiming His coming Kingdom. That seed, that message, bears fruit and produces. It bears fruit and produces because the sower, the one who planted the seeds, Himself bled and died so that even the poor soil could bear fruit. He gave His life so that the rocky, down trodden, thorn infested soil of our hearts might be cracked open, turned over, and cleared of weeds by His blood shed for us so that we could bear the fruit of everlasting life.
“He who has ears, let him hear,” Jesus says, “Turn on your listening ears.” Hear this good news from Jesus, take it to heart, read it, learn it, mark it, inwardly digest it, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). Because this word of God, the Word of Jesus, is a powerful thing. It is alive and active, it changes hearts, it proclaims the forgiveness of sins won for you by Christ on the cross, and it brings you life everlasting. This Word, the Word of Jesus, has created faith in Your heart and will sustain that faith until the day when the sower comes again to reap the fruit of the harvest He has sown. On that day He will gather you in, the fruit of His harvest, and we will live with Him eternally. In Jesus name. Amen.