Matthew 13:1-52 (AD 28)
This is probably the second-most famous parable, after ‘The Good Samaritan’, with an unusually long explanation in the Bible about what it means. Today we’ll think specifically about the fact that all three of the seeds that found soil began to grow, although the seed falling on healthy soil did not initially grow the quickest.
The seeds on rocky places sprang up quickly, with a lack of root meaning they soon died. With so little soil, the water didn’t soak away and thus the seedling had very quick access to water; initial growth was rapid. To look at it you’d think that of all the seeds, this was the one with most potential for a good crop.
The seeds among thorns grew up normally before being choked. The faster-growing, minimally-rooted thorns that had been ignored rather than pulled out, were more aggressively thirsty and soon caught up with the grain, depriving it of water.
Finally there were the seeds on good soil. Why did the healthy crop take longer to grow than the seed planted on rocky soil? Agriculturally speaking, the roots had further to go before finding water. However, once that had happened, it became apparent that only the plants growing in healthy soil were a harvestable crop.
This is important because it is relatively easy to ‘generate results’ – i.e. persuade people into a spur-of-the-moment, ‘Yes, I’m a Christian!’ statement akin to the seeds among rocky soil with ready access to water but little root. When that is your idea of what it means to become a Christian, you will naturally emphasise emotional manipulation and will draw on sales strategies, most particularly some of the best training I received as a salesperson: find out what a person feels they need and frame your product as matching that perceived need. The problem is, most people don’t perceive that they need forgiveness from a holy God to whom they are in infinite debt due to their sin. Therefore everyone says no to the gospel to begin with.
Becoming and being a Christian will naturally develop in you a sense of purpose, self-respect, belonging, respect for others, moral compass, significance and humility. But if you try to ‘sell’ Christianity on the basis of any of those things you are admitting that if someone thinks they have found a better way to feel good about themselves, they should take that. So it doesn’t usually lead to people becoming Christians, but generally produces people who have made a temporary, conditional assent to a Christian worldview. (They might look like Christians for a while as they enthusiastically join in all your activities/meetings/groups/rituals etc., but all that’s really happened is they’ve been sold a soon-to-expire self-esteem package.)
The only way to a healthy crop, per the parable, i.e. the only way to God, is repentance and faith which is followed by the gift of forgiveness. Notice that the good soil isn’t merely more productive than the path, thorny or rocky soil, it supports the only plants that survive. God’s way isn’t the best way, it’s the only way.