“A farmer went out to sow his seed…” (Luke 8:5a)
As a child raised in the city, I knew very little about farming. For a long time, I simply took for granted that this line was the beginning of Jesus’ parable. But the longer I live in Iowa, the more I see the work assumed in the story Jesus tells.
Before the seeds are sown, farmers work the land. After last year’s harvest and a long winter, the land must be worked in order to be ready for planting. The soil is turned and rocks are removed. Anhydrous ammonia is added, at least in our area. Tile must be repaired. Before the farmer ever ‘goes out to sow his seed,’ he has spent time working the ground to prepare it to grow the best crop possible.
On a smaller scale, the same is true in gardening. This week we will hopefully till the garden, remove the grass that has crept under our fence, and remove the weeds that are beginning to fester. All this in preparation for planting.
Even after the seeds are in the ground, there is work to be done. I’m coming to think that all of this is assumed in Jesus’ parable. Ground that is rocky or filled with thorns requires work by the farmer to turn it into good soil. In the same way, the rocky and thorn-infested places in our hearts require work in order to become fertile soil for God’s word. And it is not one time work, either. Just as a garden requires near-constant weeding, our hearts continue to require work in order to be prepared to ‘hear the word, retain it, and by perseverance produce a crop’ (8:15).
Farming is hard work – in Iowa as well as in ancient Israel. While Jesus’ parable doesn’t mention it, I believe it at least assumes the hard work required to prepare the soil for growth.
Yet all this work – in the field and in our hearts – only works to set the conditions for growth. It only serves to create the space for plants to grow. We must hold together the calling to work the soil of our hearts with the truth that we cannot make ourselves grow. As Paul says, “God provides the growth.” Whether it is the corn in the fields or God’s word in our hearts, it is God who provides the growth.
I find this comforting. God can grow Christian faith in even the most improbable soil, for his word ‘does not return empty’ (Is. 55). Yet, we are still called to the good hard work of tilling the soil of our hearts to prepare to hear his word.