Learning Discipleship from the Soil
Notes on the Word in the Wild, Lectionary Year A, Proper 10
I’m a preacher and as a such, whether I’m in the pulpit on a Sunday or not, I pay attention to the scriptures that are coming up for the next week. Often, I take some notes on the themes of one or more of those passages, reflecting on them in conversation with the wild world moving around me—trees and rocks, the cardinal singing as I write or the Mississippi Kite chasing dragonflies over my house. Whether you’re a lay person, a preacher, or just a curious reader, I’m going to begin offering a short reflection each week on one of the passages in the upcoming lectionary (RCL) readings and what I hear in that word as I listen to it in the wild. I’m going to make this a paid feature as a way to say thank you to those who’ve upgraded to paid and as an encouragement to those who might be considering it. I’ll continue to post longer essays and other work that will be free to all.
Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (New Revised Standard Version)
1. The “Parable of the Sower” invites us, as an act of discipleship, to cultivate the soil of the heart so that we might receive the gift of the gospel and grow. From the perspective of the disciple, this parable is better called the parable of the soil. We might then ask if we can learn something from the actual soil of the earth, the good and life giving soil of a prairie, forest, or farm, about what it means to be a disciple.
2. To begin, it might be helpful to point out a distinction that is made by soil scientists between soil and dirt. Dirt is the dead, inert geologic material of the ground. The soil, on the other hand, is alive with a community of microbes, all of which work to bring forth life. In a way, soil names the same reality captured by the Hebrew word adamah from which we get adam. The human (adam) is drawn from the humus (adamah). To be a disciple is to live as a human in relationship with the humus. Humility is the name we could give to this relationship. To be humble is to live close to the source of life, and this humility is a key aspect to discipleship.
3. The soil that is our source is not dead, but alive. It is as the writer Jeff Lowenfels calls it, “teaming with microbes.” These microbes—bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, etc.—work in the mix of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter of the earth to provide nutrients so that a plant can flourish and grow. Good soil involves community and this is true as well of discipleship. All too often we see discipleship as an individual affair—me and Jesus. But as anyone who has seriously tried to live into the way of Yeshua knows, community is necessary. In fact, community is essential for any transforming practice. One can’t become a chess player or rock climber on one’s own; no one can sail properly without another to show them the ropes. Each of us requires others to teach us and companion us through the life of any good practice. Why would we expect it to be different for the practice of following Jesus? To be a disciple, to move toward the good soil of the heart, means we need to cultivate our discipleship in the midst of a diverse living community.