Mark 4:1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Jesus explains this parable to his disciples, relating it to the preaching of the word. What I find fascinating is verse 8, where he refers to the thirty, six and hundredfold harvest. There are several things to learn here, including perseverance and persistence in preaching the word. John Chrysostom also reminds us to notice the difference in the readiness of the soil — for even there we find different stages of readiness. “The fault lies not in the farmer or the seed, but in the condition of the land itself, its disposition to receive.” (THE GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW, HOMILY 44.6.)
All of this sets up a scenario where the farmer is only responsible for being persistent in sowing the seed. The result of the harvest remains beyond the control of the farmer. Interestingly, we are told “Because of the primitive agricultural methods, an average harvest in ancient Palestine was probably no more than seven or eight times the amount of seed sown, and a good harvest probably was about ten.” (Brooks, J. A. (1991). Mark (Vol. 23, p. 79). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.) Therefore a harvest of thirty, sixty or a hundred was outside the realm of normal, and was the sign of a growing crescendo of momentum within the kingdom of God. The way in which Jesus used this parable was a sure sign of divine intervention in the growth and harvest.
I don’t know how many people have told me that they have no idea how to tell people about Jesus. Over and over they have expressed the fact that they are not skilled personal evangelists. I don’t think that Jesus was raising an expectation that any of the disciples had to be skilled evangelists — they just had to be faithful. Jesus also realized that preaching the word was not the only way of planting seeds. Yes, sometimes it was with the spoken word, but Jesus went about preaching, teaching and healing. Sometimes he used words — sometimes he just stood and wept -- sometimes he healed! Jesus is the example for all of us to follow and we are to be faithful witnesses to his presence in the world. We are to reflect him in everything that we do — whether in word or deed.
The church is pretty concerned that in some areas there doesn’t seem to be much harvest these days. Both church leaders and laypersons alike are troubled and want to find the root cause. The reality is that the real reason may be the poor soil — or, a lack of patience on our part. The overabundant harvest was a result of divine intervention. The best we could personally do might result in the eight-fold harvest — but that’s nothing compared to the crescendo of momentum that occurs when God is at work. Our responsibility is to keep planting seeds and trusting God for the harvest. If we try to produce the harvest on our own it will either be small — or we will fail.
We must persevere in sharing the good news about Jesus with those around us. We must reflect Christ in all that we do so that those who are in good soil will bear fruit. All of this must be bathed in prayer so that the power and presence of the Holy Spirit will go before us, leading us to the good soil. Then, we must not try to manufacture a harvest, but wait upon the Lord’s divine intervention so that we watch the harvest multiply in a great crescendo of the Spirit’s momentum.
Lord, please help me to be faithful in persevering and sowing seeds for you. Amen.
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