Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
I’ve thought about plants a lot this week - partly because of this Scripture and probably partly because some of mine are thriving at home and others are in grave need of attention. Also, partly because of a friend of mine’s experience with her backyard...a few weeks back she purchased three of the same bush and planted them across her backyard. One died. I didn’t know this, but some garden centers will take back dead plants! So, she returned that bush, thinking it was sick in some way when she bought it. Planted another of the same variety in the same spot. It died. There may have been a third plant - I can’t remember - but she eventually consulted a family member with landscaping knowledge and determined it wasn’t the poor plants, it was the soil in that spot. Some raised garden beds and new soil later...a thriving plant!
The soil was bad.
It’s the summary of Jesus’ words we hear today. Also, I love that this is essentially Jesus giving pastors everywhere a precedent for sermon outlines: give the people an intriguing analogy with at least three points or examples and then explain the meaning to them.
He lays out an analogy on plants thriving in good soil. It seems elementary at first, but when you “dig in,” the reflection and insight can really be profound.
As Christians, our hope in this world is to spread Jesus’ message and produce more of that love and hope and mercy and justice into this world. But how can we produce that if we ourselves are not good soil for the root message? If we are only concerned with why the branches aren’t bearing fruit and we don’t look at the soil that the tree is planted in, then we won’t solve the problem.
How do we be good soil? And we can only ask this question for ourselves. We can only be responsible for ourselves - it’s not helpful to point fingers at another person’s soil and talk about how they won’t be able to grow anything in it because they have weeded in three years. We don’t have control over that. We have control over ourselves and our households.
How can we cultivate good soil? (I am going to run with Jesus’ analogy here…)
1. Clear the weeds - declutter, meditate, go to therapy, wine night with a friend
Jesus says it himself that weeds or thorns are a hindrance to plant growth and in the human world will choke out any faith development. “Weeds” look different for each person...for you, it may be unbalanced mental health that needs attention, it may be an overscheduled calendar that needs re-prioritizing, it may be unresolved conflict with a loved one that needs addressing, it may be a blown out of proportion ego that needs deflating, it may be a whole host of things.
Whatever is clouding your ability to feel the compassion that Jesus has for this world, that is what needs to be addressed. I didn’t say thrown out - this is where the analogy breaks down. We throw weeds in the ground out - the weeds in our lives need to be addressed, maybe not thrown out. For instance, if it’s an unresolved conflict, the conflict needs to be addressed and gotten rid of, but not necessarily the person.
So, what is keeping you from seeing this world as God sees it? What weeds are keeping you from the compassion that Jesus felt?
2. Till things up from time to time - read diverse authors (not all white/black, not all men/women), talk with people different than ourselves, listen to or read the “other” news source. Tilling is done when new plants are going in - before setting up a flower bed or in between farm crops. It helps clear the weeds and freshen the soil so that it is fertile. We, our hearts and our minds, can use tilling from time to time.
Maybe in doing so, we find some old roots that need digging up. At the townhouse a few years ago, I was excited in Spring to do something with the flower beds. I started clearing weeds and digging holes for plants….and this one area was basically just a maze of old roots hidden under the surface. It was barely any soil; it was basically just roots holding the ground up. No new plant was going to grow there. I tried, too! I didn’t do a great job of clearing all the weeds, planted a little vine, and it didn’t grow. It survived and stayed the same size, but it didn’t grow!
What old roots within ourselves need digging up so that we can grow? Time and again people will tell the story of clearing the weeds - going to therapy, tilling things up - and discovering a trauma in their past that they had buried under the surface. It’s hard work to dig that up and face it so that we can be clear soil for whatever else needs planting. But it’s important, because from there they can grow.
Many people have gone through this when processing theology or social beliefs, too, especially when it comes to biases or discriminatory thoughts we were taught. I’ve talked with so many of you who have gone through, in your adult lives, a deconstruction of your faith and spirituality. You have tilled up what was taught to you and looked at it. You’ve discovered some parts that you treasure and you’ve discovered some parts that are essentially dead roots and need to be thrown out.
Tilling the soil - churning it up from time to time - allows for new growth.
3. Water. My grandmother can take a leaf off the sidewalk and grow a tree from it. She knows which plants need 6 oz of water every other week and which ones need watering 2x/week.
For us, I believe it is similar. We all need nourishment - it comes in different forms and at different seasons of our lives it looks different - yet, we need nourishment for our souls.
Maybe you sign up for a journaling workshop. Maybe you take a long bike ride. Maybe you sit down and color with your favorite 5 year old (or 30 year old, I support adults coloring). Maybe you read that book from that author you love. Maybe you sit in prayer for 30 minutes. Maybe you block some time for gardening.
Whatever waters your soul, do it. Again we won’t grow and spread Jesus’ message without it.
When a plant is planted in good soil and taken care of - the flowers, the fruit, the vegetables, the branches - are so lovely. When we make ourselves good soil for the message of Jesus - the results, the love, the advocacy, the compassion - are so lovely.
What will you do today to cultivate good soil within yourself? Will you pull some weeds, till the ground, add a little water? This is a great question to share with friends or family members as you are talking throughout the week! Share with one another what you will do to cultivate good soil.
We have to do them all - if we only water, but don’t pull weeds, we’ll end up watering the weeds as well and that won’t be good. If we just keep tilling the ground, but don’t give any water, we’ll just be turning up dust.
What will you do today to cultivate good soil within yourself?