Wow! This parable brings up so many issues, it is hard to know where to begin. So this will be a multi-part posting over time. For today, I want to zero in on “the moral of the story” (Lk.8:4-18).
Honestly, it’s tempting to focus on the fruit in this parable. It always is. Many of the sermons I have heard over the years about this parable seem to do just that. What kind of fruit are you producing — if any? That reveals what kind of soil you are.
But I don’t think that’s where Jesus was going with this. At the end of the parable he says, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear!” In saying that, he was not only asking people to dig into the message of the parable, he was in fact telling us the main point of the parable. This is evident from the way he later explains this parable to his disciples:
“when those on the hard ground hear — when those on the rocks hear — when the ones among the thorns hear — when those on good soil hear –“
He then follows up his explanation with still another word picture and this admonition:
“So pay attention to how you listen.”
Jesus says the thing that separates the various types of ground from each other is the manner in which they hear His word and how they allow it to impact their souls (their soils?). Good soil is that which is receptive, teachable, willing to listen and learn. Poor soil has trouble weeding out competing self-interests and disappointments, or has given over too much territory to the enemy to hear anything at all. So we need to ask, What does Jesus mean by “paying attention” to how we hear? What can we do to alter the “how” of listening? A few thoughts come to mind:
1. Are we willing to be mentored in our own life? Do we really want God’s direction? If we are only willing to listen to theory but not how it will impact our own life, then we will not hear well.
2. Do we even believe that we need something outside ourselves that we cannot provide for ourselves? Or are we too self-sufficient to need anyone else or any thing else? Do we actually believe we can live up to God’s standard by trying hard, or do we understand the need for God to speak into our lives in order to be fed and to grow? These issues can all change how we listen.
3. Are we too afraid or too ashamed to stand transparent before God and ask him to “Search me, O God”?
4. Are we willing to ask hard questions? When we “hear” that we are supposed to forgive seventy-times-seven, do we even want to ask, “Lord, you know I have trouble making it to four times. How can you help me with that?”
5. Do we think of God’s word mostly as His expectations of us, or do we really hear His heart for us?
6. Do we really try to digest what God is telling us?
The truth? Listening is hard work. And paying attention to how we ourselves are involved in the listening process is also hard work. How we listen matters. It has major implications for our lives. Jesus invites us into His band of disciples, to listen well, so we can become more like Him.