Which soil are you?

There are various types of soil: clay soils are heavy, high in nutrients, wet and cold in winter and baked dry in summer; sandy soils are light, dry, warm, low in nutrients and often acidic; chalky soils are very alkaline and may be light or heavy. Not being much of a gardener, all I can tell you about the soil in the Rectory garden is that it is brown.

The question raised by the Parable of the Sower is: what type of soil are we? How receptive are we to God’s word? 

Probably by virtue of the fact that we are here in church, we would consider ourselves good soil for the word of God to fall into, from which a good harvest is being produced. However the ground into which the seed of God falls is always changing. We might think that if the seed was sown long ago, when we were younger, at Sunday school, perhaps or by a member of our family we are now ripe Christians.  

The Word of God is constantly being sown, over and over again, just as the corn-seed of the grain is sown year after year. We may have been more fertile ground at certain times in our lives. At other times we may have been unreceptive.

St Augustine, is a notable case of a young man who resisted converting to Christianity. He prayed once, ‘Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.’ He was too busy enjoying himself. Through the watering of the tears of the fervent prayers of his mother St Monica, he was converted and became one of the greatest and most influential promoters of Christianity.

The ground might also change from week to week, from day to day. There might be Sundays when the word of God takes root and makes a connection. There might be other times when we might as well read the phone book for all the good it seems to be doing. But while there might appear to be no growth, many seeds have already been planted and are waiting patiently to germinate.

There is probably something of the four soils in each of us, hard ground, and shallow ground, soil that is choked with thorny cares of the world as well as good soil. There may be thorns that need to be dug out, aspects of our life that need to change, if the word of God is to grow in us, and produce a good crop.

The sower, appears rather profligate and careless with his sowing. The seed goes everywhere, not just into good soil. Sowing seed by hand is by nature imprecise, but it also reflects the liberal nature of God’s grace. The seed is thrown out to everyone, the receptive and the unreceptive, the religious and the non-religious, the churchy and the worldly.

One of the dangers for those of us who are getting long in the tooth, is that we might think that God has nothing more to teach us, that we cannot learn from other people. One merit of discussing the word of God is that we receive insights from others that can heighten our understanding. I recently visited Fr Simon Holden, monk at Mirfield, who despite his 86 years, keeps learning new things about God and the Bible. He had just preached a sermon on wonder. He talked about the enigmatic saying of Jesus that unless you be like little children you will never enter the kingdom of God. And he thought this might reflect the wonder that children have at the world that is being revealed to them. The world for a child is a place of new experiences, it has the ‘wow factor’. This outlook becomes rather jaded as we grow older, world-weary and cynical.  When was the last time you had the ‘wow’ feeling?

The prophet Isaiah gives a beautifully simple allegory of the effect of the word of God, when he compares it to the water in rainfall that is not absorbed back into the air until it has watered the ground, and enabled the corn to be grown and made into the bread that sustains us. Neither does God’s word return without having effect.  

For the Word to have real influence it has got to take root and grow inside us. Pope Francis succinctly summed this up when he advised taking a line from scripture, perhaps one from the Sunday readings, and repeating it to yourself through the course of the day. Then, he said, you will see how the word of God grows inside of you.  

The word of God repeatedly falls into the ears of the Christian. But does it go in one ear and out the other, or does it penetrate our minds and make us think, and make its way into our hearts and guide our actions? God is liberal with the sowing. How we respond is for us to decide.