“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”… “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Luke 8:5-15 NIV
Christ gives us the very soil beneath our feet as an image of our own hearts. Next time you scrape mud off your boots, let it (as St Basil said) remind you of God and His lessons to us. Is this soil hard or soft? Rocky and dry? Fertile? Could it grow a mustard seed? Would it produce good fruit? And is your heart like it, able to grow in faith from God’s word?
This parable outlines our responsibility for creating fertility in the ‘soil’ of our hearts, tending and preparing it for Jesus’ presence to grow there. We do not want our hearts to be like rocky soil, that stubbornly prevents God’s wisdom from reaching our deepest self, nor like the weedy soil that allows wordly cares to thrive but leaves little room for spiritual growth. We want to retain those word-seeds in our hearts and produce a full crop of the fruits of the spirit in our lives. The good news is (as the culture Christ spoke to knew) any type of soil can be amended and improved. Even the stoniest dirt can be transformed to a glorious, nutritive fruit-bearing substance, by perseverance (Luke 8:15).
Appropriately, the actual soil on Earth also reflects the state of our hearts. As our hearts have become selfish and stony, so has our soil. Many people are familiar with the devastating Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, created when unsustainable farming practices met with drought. In a rush to achieve the highest yield and highest profit, destructive techniques (such as overgrazing , over-tilling, and monocropping ) depleted the soil and transformed a fertile, fruit-bearing land into a barren desert and famine.
Unfortunately, in this current age our hearts are still unwilling to deny ourselves conveniences or food-luxuries in order to give the soil time to regenerate. Our world is losing arable topsoil. A 2014 United Nations report explains that we are losing 30 soccer fields of soil every minute, mostly due to unsustainable intensive farming practices. If this rate continues, all of the world’s farmable soil could be gone within 60 years. How then could we perform the Jesus’ command to feed the hungry?
Though this problem of land degradation is global, it is more pronounced in developing countries, such as Africa and Asia, where people are most dependent on local food production for their survival. The Sahael region of Africa in particular is combating desertification , where the Sahara is expanding and overtaking land currently used to feed their villages. This has major consequences for the residents there, as well as for Christian charities serving those communities.
This destruction comes not from need, but from ignorance, apathy, and greed. While weather variations contribute to soil loss, the primary force degrading our land is mismanagement– not mismanagement from ignorance alone, but by consistently choosing short-term selfish gains over long-term productivity. It is possible with specialized knowledge, patience, and askesis to produce abundant food, more than enough for our population, without depleting the earth.
We do not need to overgraze fields with livestock, but we do so to fill our culture’s gluttonous appetite for meat-filled meals every day. We don’t need to deplete the nutrients from our farmlands through monocropping, but we do in order to make harvest more immediately convenient and inexpensive. We do not need to accelerate climate change (and thus desert-expansion) by burning excessive fossil fuels, but we demand the comforts of cheap electricity. In short, it is as Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew says: Pollution is in essence a problem of the heart.
As we have neglected our role as priests of creation, the earth is showing us an icon of our stony hearts. We waste what we have and refuse to feed our hungry neighbors, and the soil is likewise retreating, refusing to produce food at all. In our modern world, we are still reenacting the consequences of our first sin in Eden: “Cursed is the ground because of you… it will bring forth thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:17). We must look at the most humble of God’s creation– the dirt we trample daily– to learn about our spiritual growth and our ethical obligation to our neighbors. We must remember that we are also dust (Genesis 2:7 , Psalm 103:14), and so the dust will teach us to be who we are meant to be.
Here we can return to the good news, that any land can be restored to fruitful, fertile soil through perseverance (Luke 8:15, again). When we create good soil in both our hearts, and on Earth, there are also far-reaching benefits to our neighbors, as will be covered in part 2 of this post. Please like and subscribe to this blog to receive an update with part 2.