Jesus reminds me of a geologist taking soul soil samples by teaching the crowds of disciples with the parable of the sower. Gardeners and geologists know that different regions and climates have differing growing and geological zones. It turns out that human hearts and souls have different soil types as well.
The second to last day of January this year had the honor of carrying the Gospel where Jesus taught this particular parable called The Parable of the Sower to the crowd by the sea. The crowd was so big, by the way, he had to get in a boat so they’d all hear him. The first thing he barked out was, “Hear this!” He didn’t just want them to be able to hear his preaching, He was telling them they really needed to listen up because He was about to tell them something of great importance. To an ancient audience, I’m sure this got them to sit up and focus their attention more than usual.
4 Soul Soil Types
As you may recall if you are a person familiar with this parable, Jesus presented four types of earth on which the seeds were cast. I used to think it was three types, but upon study I see it’s really four.
The first type was bird infested land so that when seeds hit the ground the birds immediately ate them. This area was a path, not really the soft, fertile field the sower probably intended. But the lucky little path did receive the word nonetheless. Jesus taught us that He is the sower. The seeds are His word and the birds are Satan coming to rob us of His word. How chilling! Birds are often the enemies of farmers as they are swift thieves. Some souls have the great grace to actually receive God’s word but, due to not knowing God, or perhaps not having been properly formed or catechized, or by choice may have many evil influences in their lives that come and swallow up the gift. Clearly those souls need the love and mercy of being reached, evangelized and catechized so that they can be saved too. This must have been a big eye opener to not just the crowd, but to the Apostles because it was the Apostles that were in training to rescue souls.
I wonder what is stealing our gift of the word of God.
Rocky ground is tricky because the soil is sparse and the seeds seem to take right away. The problem with the lack of soil is, as soon as it gets hot or difficult, these sprouts wither and die right away. Jesus said the rocky soul soil type is excited to hear His word and they receive it with great joy but as soon as life hits, they are outta here. “What?!? Christianity is not a walk in the park? Forget about it!” Those souls seek an easier way. No Jedi knight training for them! And we wonder why our pews are barren. It’s okay to come hear Christmas or Easter Mass when the pastor is telling them they are wonderful just for showing up. What about the rest of the year when they need watering, a sermon that uncomfortably pulls weeds from their souls, or the nourishment of the Eucharist to feed their souls?
Oh no! Maybe my favorite bumper sticker was right after all, “Way down deep I’m superficial”!
Hmm, am I the rocky ground with the thin covering of soil? Are you the rocky ground? Are you “rootless”? Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?
The thorny soul soil type is fairly obvious as the thorn branches and roots choke and kill everything good. Those types hear God’s word but then they are more interested in a high paying career, or worrying about worldly things like maybe what Kim Kardashian is wearing that day, or how their stocks and investments are doing. One might grow in this thorny soul soil but, one will not bear fruit such as kind deeds, or becoming selfless so as to serve their fellow man.
How much of our time is sucked away for all eternity by social media? There’s a thorn we should worry about.
Ah! The rich soil! One would think the thorny guy only concerned with his stocks and bonds would be the rich one, but he’s not. He is the spiritually poor. He’s dying and no one is reaching him. The rich, dark, fertile and yielding soul soil is the primo territory for Christ the sower. He casts out the seeds, strewing them upon all with total generosity. It is this receptive soil, which has already been amended, weeded, and watered and perhaps prepared by the fertilizer of suffering that takes the word, lets it go deep to form roots and eventually bear fruit.
Fruit? I’m a human. I don’t bear fruit.
Well, actually, you do bear fruit. Maybe you show patience with a clueless driver in front of you instead of honking or wanting to drive them off the road. Maybe your spouse is driving you over the edge with their behavior but, you instead bite your tongue and let them continue to express all the things that are stressing them, tho’ their chatter is the last thing you need after a long, difficult day. Maybe you’d like to let your boss have it and just unload on what a crummy manager he is but, instead, you swallow hard and work even smarter to achieve results. These are all evidence of you bearing fruit. When you exhibit behaviors that show you have self-control, or love, or courage, it demonstrates that inside you have been growing as a person (Pssst! That means you are developing character). If a person allows God’s word to go down deep, very deep, then getting these soul lessons learned stops being on your own resolve or will power, but begins to grow on His power.
If we can’t forgive, then, we should call up the power of His word that He tried to plant in us and let HIM give us the forgiveness we just do not have. If we would just ask Him to help us every moment of every day we would have an easier time of things. But instead, we humans go on trying to grit our teeth and white knuckle it. That’s a bit of rocky soil there. Only a thin layer of soil is there. If we’d just have the humility – rich soil – then He can give us the power to overcome all with His word that gives grace and power. Grace is a free gift, by the way, in case you never wondered what that pretty word means. And the fruit we begin to bear is virtue. Virtue is like a muscle you need to feed and exercise. But when you start to see your virtue muscles growing, it’s a motivator to keep working them out. You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Patience is a virtue” your whole life. Well, to exercise patience means to exert the effort required not to lose one’s patience. But what if you run out of patience? That is when you call upon the deep roots on your soul fruit tree and let the power of Christ’s word give you the power to hold back, take that deep breath and not lose your temper.
Are you out of top soil?
Top soil is that dark, rich soil Christ taught us about in His sower parable. How do you get some if you’ve allowed yours to dry out in the hot winds of sin and blow away in the storms of life? You need merely to ask and God will begin to help you get a dump truck load. You’ll find you have to work at things, learn to let go of things but, in time, His word will give you the humility to receive, the patience to bear up under life’s tough burdens and the love to carry on for you, for your family and for Him.
Wouldn’t you love to bear that sweet fruit?
Here’s a new take on this parable!
Instead of asking yourself if you are the rocky soil or the thorny soil, ask yourself which areas of your soul have those different types. Yes. It actually helps a lot more to examine your inner garden and see where you missed out on beautiful experiences or gifts from God because part of you was the bird infested path. Part of you might be the rocky soil with unforgiveness or rage held tight to your heart. Under that polite exterior maybe you are bubbling away with hurt and anger. That part of the garden is not going to bear nice things. Admit it. Maybe in another zone you see in your soul many thorn branches and you realize your porn habit turned into an addiction and you are caught and can’t get free. Or your love of money has choked the life out of that part of your soul and you feel half dead. Don’t despair. Getting help is as easy as asking.
Jesus is just waiting for you to ask.
And lastly, rejoice over the parts of you that are the rich soil. Take comfort that at least parts of you are that healthy, fertile growing soil and that God is indeed bringing beautiful fruit or deeds forth from you. It’s okay to appreciate your goodness as long as you do not take inordinate pride there. Just know that you and Jesus worked together, in cooperation, in that part of the inner garden and look and enjoy how pretty and lush it is. Wouldn’t you like your whole soul garden to look and smell that fresh and beautiful? That’s a worthy goal and Jesus your sower will help you. Just ask.
Perhaps you can use Lent this year to survey your inner garden and determine where you need help. Lent does mean springtime after all. Talk to a holy priest or spiritual director and see if you can use those six weeks to make your roots go deeper and bear beautiful fruit. Maybe you’ll cut off dead branches. By Easter you should see some pretty green sprouts, maybe even a luscious, scented fruit or two. Have hope. Nothing is impossible with Him and He is eager to help you no matter what.
We can discuss soul gardening tips in a future post.
A very exciting thing happened the day I finished my first draft of this blog post. I decided to head to the garden to enjoy the sunshine and fragrant blossoms since we were between rain storms. On my way out, I happened to look down and saw an envelope that should not have been on the floor near the back door. I picked it up and it had been labeled “Chinese Prayers.” Curious, I simply had to view the contents. To my delighted surprise I saw the image of Christ the Sower! I could not have asked for a more clear or strong affirmation about my blog post. The second wave of realization hit me. This small, antique pamphlet was to reach, catechize and form those many of our Chinese brethren who’d never heard of Christ.
Our priest asked us, “What kind of seeds are you sowing?
Are you sowing seeds of hate? Are you sowing seeds of anger?
Or are you sowing seeds of love?”
© 2019 Frances Peterson
Photos are the property of this author and are used with full permission.
Christ the Sower book cover: out of print.
Homily that talks about growing in virtue by Fr. Dominic, St. Dominic’s Church, San Francisco, Feb. 3, 2019:
Go to minute number 4, at 55 seconds, 4:55 and the homily starts there.
Song of the Parable of the Sower and the Seed (Take Care of Me):