Jesus tells parables so the people will not understand. That’s not how we usually describe parables. We usually say that a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. That is, Jesus tells parables so that we can understand heavenly concepts with the help of earthly analogies. But Jesus is saying that’s not it at all. The parables are told to hide the heavenly reality. And this parable tells us why.
Unless the Spirit blesses the sowing of the word, it produces no fruit. Scripture says that without faith it is impossible to please God. Well, without the spirit it is impossible to have faith. Unless God send the Spirit to enlighten our hearts, we can not see, can not hear, can not receive the word, can not believe, and can not produce the fruits of faith.
That may be a harsh judgment. But it’s the truth. And the truth is sometimes harsh. Just because we don’t want to hear it doesn’t mean that it isn’t the Word of God. That it isn’t important. God’s word stands especially against our sinful false conceptions of who God is. We don’t get to decide which parts of his word we like, and which parts we don’t. Which parts appeal to us and which parts can be left by the wayside. Nothing in God’s holy word can be left by the wayside. We either hear and receive his word gratefully, by the power of the spirit, or we reject that word and substitute our own word – whether that false word comes from our own hearts, from the world, the advice of friends, false prophets in the church, or even the councils and conventions of the church. The word of God stands fast against all of them. The word of the Lord remains forever. It is holy in itself, and does not need our acknowledgment to be true. We may ignore the train heading toward us, standing on the tracks claiming that we see nothing. But our delusions do not change reality. The word of God is holy and sure, even if we reject it.
The question in the parable is whether it remains the holy word also for us –whether we will treat it as holy, whether we will gladly hear and learn it.
And so, we enter the parable with God spreading the word abroad. Scattering the seed here and there. It falls on various types of ground. Some of it is obviously no good. Some looks good at first, but will not be fruitful. And some is fruitful.
The seed that falls on the path produces nothing. The birds eat it before it can even sprout. The hard heart can not hear the word of God. Without him to soften the soil, the heart can receive nothing of His Word.
The seed that falls on rocks, or among weeds starts out well. Coming up, it seems like here is someone who is faithful. But the rocks represent a time of testing or trial. The weeds, the cares of this life. It’s all too easy to get caught up in either. To come up against hard times, and just get frustrated and fall away. Or to get too caught up in the things of this world. You don’t even notice its happening. Day to day things seem ok. You can’t see an immediate difference. But one thing, then another, then another get in the way. Eventually, and you’re not sure when, the weeds have killed the plant. There wasn’t a specific day it happened. But school, job, family commitments, sports, music, it all gets in the way a little bit. Every little thing crowds your faith a little. Wants a little piece of it. Until there’s nothing left.
The prayer of the day is short. “Grant that by your power we may be defended from all adversity.” That we wouldn’t wither in bad times. That we wouldn’t be overcome with stuff in good times. That’s the prayer today. Because it’s so easy to have that happen.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that we would be kept from false belief, despair or other great shame and vice – practically the same prayer. And Luther notes that the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh try to keep us from the Word of God.
That’s the pattern in the Gospel reading. The Devil tries to keep the word from even sprouting and creating faith. The World can be hard, and there will be tough times that will try and make your faith wither. And even if you survive those, there’s your own sinful flesh, that gets distracted by this or that or the other. We must be careful. The devil, world, and flesh are sneaky. They don’t come right out and say, “Give up on this church thing!” They try to sneak in when we aren’t looking. That’s why we pray – defend us from all adversity – anything that goes against you. Anything that would lead us away.
The goal is that we would hear and learn the word profitably.
It’s the season of the gesimas. Each Sunday ends with that. Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima – it means seventy days, sixty days and fifty days. Roughly speaking, how long until Easter. The season otherwise known as Pre-Lent. A time to prepare. But isn’t Lent about preparing? Are we really preparing to prepare? That seems a bit much. True, Lent is a bout preparing. But it’s also about the journey through temptation to the cross, and the grave, and finally the resurrection.
When you take a journey, you get ready. In a sense, the journey is preparing to arrive. You’re getting there. But you pack. You make a list of stuff to take. So also, if we are to journey to the cross again, if we are to consider testing and temptation, we should also prepare our hearts, fix our eyes on Jesus. Because it’s easy to get distracted. Even to get distracted with all the stuff that goes with Easter – that we lose focus. Our faith has but one object. Jesus, and him crucified. Attend to the word. Hear it. And be careful that the cares and trials of this word don’t starve your faith. Bear fruit with patience.
Grant this Lord, unto us all.