Kingdom of Heaven: Sower, Seed, Soil

I love the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-23 and the parallel passage in Luke 8:4-15.  It is one of the few parables which is fully explained by Jesus to His disciples.  And it is a parable that enumerates all possible human responses to the Word of God.   Here is Jesus’ explanation of the parable in Matthew:

 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;  yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 

This poem is just a verse paraphrase of the story in this parable: iambic heptameter (x/x/x/x/x/x/x/), form ABAB.  It might make more sense to read the poem story first, and then to read the Scriptural explanation above . . .

 

Kingdom of Heaven:  Sower, Seed, Soil

That cloudy morning, rain in forecast, mist upon the ground

I strapped my seed-bag on and headed for the topmost field.

There, at the edge, between the paddock, path, and rocky mound

I flung the grain by handfuls, hoping for an ample yield.

 

My arm described the perfect arc, augmented by the seed;

And stepping backward I observed the kernels fall to earth

I trod beside the border, stepping over stone and weed,

Ensuring that each corner of my field received its worth.

 

The blackbirds trailed my backward steps; they searched the hardened lane

For seeds the breeze or careless toss had scattered as I sowed.

The other seeds were lodged secure in softer soil’s terrain,

But these were easy pickings for those grackles on the road.

 

The wayside seeds were lost, a waste, plucked up as soon as sown.

They never had the chance to put down roots, to come alive.

I tried to shut them from my mind; it wouldn’t help to moan

For what was gone; I’d concentrate on grain that would survive.

 

And so I watched, the next few days, as tiny blades emerged.

Across the misty field, a sheen of emerald appeared

From loamy soil, and suddenly the hope within me surged.

The crop was up; my anxious expectation disappeared.

 

But soon, around the edges, in the coming weeks I saw

A browning, as initial growth was stunted and then quit.

I scrutinized the weakened plants to find the fatal flaw,

And noticed that each shriveled stalk had grown in rocky grit.

 

At first, it hadn’t mattered, for the rains had freed the germ,

The shoots had sprouted quickly, made an effort to mature,

But then their roots were hampered by the rocks beneath, so firm

And, without source, they withered and could simply not endure.

 

I cut my losses, certain that the crop that still remained

Would yield a decent payment for my labor and my care.

But then, alarmed, I watched as day by day the thistles gained

And strangled healthy stalks of grain that grew close to their snare.

 

Another failure, sad to see the struggle of each stem

As one by one they buckled to their thorny, weedy foe.

Their vibrant life now choked out by those masters of mayhem:

Aggressive suffocators of the crop I’d tried to grow.

 

A full moon later I returned to check the field, subdued.

I figured all was lost, and only came to verify.

The thistles, finished, pocked the topmost paddock that I viewed,

But now the transformation that had happened caught my eye.

 

For where the seed had fallen, not on wayside,but good soil,

Where neither thorn nor stone had tainted healthy, fertile ground,

Oh, there the crop stood perfect, whole, and yielding for my toil

A gain of thirty, sixty, and a hundred on each crown.

 

The roadside loss to crows, the rocky, barren, dried-up shoots,

The stifling thistles that had crowded out the struggling grain,

All this I put behind me for the joy of labor’s fruits

Now waving tall and ripe for harvest, sower’s greatest gain.

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8 thoughts on “Kingdom of Heaven: Sower, Seed, Soil

  1. How beautifully your poem brings the parable to life! Making it 1st person, one can feel the earth underfoot at the sowing; one looks out over expanse of field and sky and sun with purposefulness and hope, bringing the whole experience home.

    There is mystery for me in one of the sections of the King James you’ve quoted:

    “But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”

    It’s that line, “yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while…” Getting my head around the King James I came up with “for one who isn’t well centered in himself, only being so temporarily…”(Of course that may have mangled it.) As the passage goes on, it seems this wavering connection to one’s heart, and What dwells there (another mangling?) leaves one vulnerable to life’s vicissitudes, and, being offended, defensive, standing now against the flow of life, resisting, forgetting, these lead to barren harvest and loss, despite having once received Truth joyfully.

    How important then it is to remain centered in the heart, as much as one can be.

    Do you think I’ve gotten the gist?

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    1. Great thoughts, Fred! When I think about the one who “heareth the word, . . . yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while,” I think of that root in himself being his own resolve in his belief. That interpretation is driven, for me, by the phrase that follows: “for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”

      So this “unrooted” person does not have a faith that can stand in the time of tribulation or persecution. In other words, within himself, he is not “rooted and grounded in love,” (Ephesians 3:17) and he is not “rooted and built up in [Christ.]” (Colossians 2:7) He does not have a faith that will withstand the eventual adversity that comes in the life of a believer. This seed on the rocky soil is the one who didn’t count the cost of his faith, who sprang up readily but naively–whose, as you put it, “wavering connection” to his belief in Christ has left him “vulnerable to life’s vicissitudes . . .”

      Lots of metaphors in the Bible describe such a “fair-weather” faith: the one who begins to build a tower without counting the cost, and is unable to finish (Luke 14:28), the double-minded man, unstable in all this ways (James 1:8), the one who puts hand to the plow and then looks back (Luke 9:62). Enthusiasm without staying power seems to be the the common theme here, I think. The writer of Hebrews cautions us to be rooted in our faith; his word is “steadfast,” literally “unshakeable; resolute”: “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.” (Heb. 3:14)

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  2. How your work stimulates my thought! Now I’m focused on “heareth the word”, specifically on “word”. Is this the word one hears with the ears (or reads, presumably); or could it be the Word in the beginning, uttered by Source, referred to in John, the Principle, Creation, resident in the sacred heart of Jesus, given in our hearts, through the agency of the Christ in us? The former would be the function of language and the mind that understands it; the latter, mystery, metaphysical, present from the beginning…

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  3. Yes! This is the Word of the Lord, by which the heavens and the earth came into being. (Psalm 33:6)

    This is the Word, Jesus Christ, Who is the physical incarnation of God: God in the flesh. (John 1:1)

    This is the Word which Jesus said is “Spirit and Life.” (John 6:63)

    And this is the Word that we hold in our hands and read–or listen and understand with our ears. The Word is all of these things! “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matt. 13:9)

    Thank you for these thoughts, Fred!

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    1. Following further, if I may, Word/word then, “penetrates” all the levels from God to the book we hold in our hands. Logic may fail here (as it can and does), but would this indicate that I hold this book in my hands “in the beginning,” in that when it comes to the Word, all time is in the beginning, whatever clocks, calendars, schedules may say about it. This may seem hopelessly abstract, but I consider it to be an important point, if we are to have any sense of eternity, and our access to it.

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  4. I don’t think it’s hopelessly abstract; I think it’s a good point. In Hebrews, we see “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” In Exodus, we hear God say to Moses: ” I AM THAT I AM.” In Revelation, He says, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”

    That convergence of the timeless, Eternal God with our own mortality, trapped in time, is what happens when we believe in the Son of God: this Infinite Treasure rests within our earthen vessels (II Corinthians 4:7).

    We are at the beginning when we receive the Word. We are at the ending when we hear the Word. The presence of the Everlasting in our corporeal flesh defies every physical law we are bound by on earth.

    We are, like all humanity, victims of the march of time and of entropy, yet, according to the Scripture, we are renewed in our inner man day by day (II Cor. 4:16) We are “born” when we are old (John 3:4). Though we be dead, yet we live (John 11:25). We discover that “whosoever . . . shall humble himself as [a] little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). The first shall be last and the last, first (Matt. 20:16). When we are weak, we are strong (II Cor. 12:10). “[O]ne day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (II Peter 3:8)

    Another passage from Paul gives more of these Divine paradoxes: “but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God,[ . . . ] as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” (II Cor. 6:4,9-10)

    We see in the book of the Revelation of John, the final day of Time, when the finite is swallowed up by Infinity. John is asked to seal up the message he is given with regard to that day, though, so we are left to wonder and watch and wait: “And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished” (Revelation 10:5-7)

    Meanwhile, we, within our mortal frame, can hold the timeless Word that is both beginning and ending and present here and now. We can know the God Who says, “I am God, and there is none like me,
    declaring the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10).

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    1. “The presence of the Everlasting in our corporeal flesh defies every physical law we are bound by on earth.”

      As a footnote, physics starting in the early part of the last century began to unravel the Newtonian concepts of matter (including the ‘material body’) finding, to make a long story short, each (previously considered) atom is 99.9% vast space, or vast light. Take any matter and drill down to progressively smaller levels and at a certain point there’s nothing there–an emptiness of writhing, foaming potential. Hard not to make correlations to some of the scripture we’ve been discussing (and some of the much older scriptures of different cultures).

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  5. Wow, thanks for bringing up that angle on the subject! Scientists studying quantum electrodynamics are now moving from Rutherford’s foil analysis and believe the space in the atom is actually not empty, but filled with particle creation and annihilation. The science is way beyond me, but, as I understand it, they are positing that the large amount of space in the atom is actually filled with spread-out, low-density, fuzzy-edged electron waves that fill the space of each atom, which, I guess, is why we can’t shrink atoms. Quarks and hadrons and other things that I have no business talking about because, basically, it blows my mind and I don’t really get it all.

    The point you are making, though, remains the same: the farther we go into the past or the future, into the limitless greatness of space or the unending smallness of the atom, the more we see the hand of an Infinite Creator. I used to sit and wonder, as a child, “Okay, at the universe’s edge, what is there? After the end of time, then what? Before the world, what was then?” I couldn’t, and still can’t conceive in my human mind of something that is truly eternal. My life was held firmly within the bounds of starts and stops, limits and measures. The concept of eternal space or eternal life, or an eternal God, or the number pi, or recurring fractals really makes me stop, scratch my head, and worship.

    That this eternal God, Who is so far beyond me, Who says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:9), that this same God has manifested Himself in the Word, that measured physical vehicle (Creation, Jesus Christ, or the written Word) of the everlasting Mind of God–that’s, as the psalmist said, “too wonderful for me.”

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