Note to the Reader
This week, we continue our examination of the Gospel of Mark. As such, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Gospel in conjunction with this article.
Clothes that get dirty from working in the dirt are clothes ready to be cleaned, but the dirt represents work done, unless, however, the dirt is on a child who was playing in the mud. It is interesting, is it not, that dirt represents at least two levels of work. First, there are many occupations that require one to work in dirt, and second, those occupations have the worker going home and requiring more work just to remove the dirt. A vicious cycle this is. But without workers in the dirt, where would our food come from, where would our shopping malls, eateries, and parking lots be?
The Parable of the Soils is a parable that is known and known well by many. So we will just run through the parable making a few observations. The text that we will be using is Mark 4.3-20.
The Compacted Ground is the Way Side soil spoken of in verses 4.4 and 4.15. The first observation we should make is that the sower seems to have some kind of hope with the Compacted Ground, otherwise why sow seed? The parable seems to reveal that this soil is so packed down, which appears to indicate that their spiritual heart is so compacted, that they cannot seemingly process the gift of the sower. But there is one verse that brings hope, “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?”1 There is always hope. Sometimes, like Jeremiah says, the ground has to be turned for the seed to take root.
The Stony Ground is the soil spoken of in Mark 4.5-6 and 4.16-17. This and the next type of soil have always been interesting to me. This soil sees the value of the gift from the sower, but when the heat gets turned on, they faint under the heat. The parable reveals part of the reason for fainting, strength of the root system. I have lived in places that have trees growing in rock and rock face, but it seems that the only reason they grow is because they have developed a strong root system. So it is possible for a seed to take root in the natural environment in a very hostile place, but it takes a strong root system to allow it to flourish in such a hostile setting. If the reader feels that they are a seed sown in the Stony Ground, the question is what stones are getting in the way of you developing your strong root system?
The Thorny Ground is the soil spoken of in Mark 4.7 and 4.18-19. This and the previous type of soil, both gladly accepted the gift from the sower, but have different challenges and these challenges affected how well they grew. There are many things that can affect growth and one of those things is overgrowth of other plants. In this case, the other plants are called thorns, in other words, the unwanted plant life that stifles and chokes the life out of the non-thorny plant. Jesus likens the thorny plants to the thorny issues of life: cares of this world (which can be many different things), the deceitfulness of riches (from comfort to safety), lusts (and this should not be interpreted as limited to sensual human contact), these are the things that prevent the gift of the sower from growing to maturity. If the reader feels that they are a seed sown among the thorny ground, take heart, we are assured that these thorns can be overcome. Paul informs us that God will provide a “way of escape”2 yet sometimes it seems proper to adopt an attitude like Paul’s attitude toward his thorny situation, accepting that “grace is sufficient.”3 Do not neglect the power of prayer for help in time of need.
The Fertile Ground is the Good Ground spoken of in Mark 4.8 and 4.20. From the parable we learn that the Fertile Ground brings forth different quantities of fruit. But the interesting thing is what is the fruit? The parable does not explain or identify the type of fruit. We could turn to Galatians and read about the Fruit of the Spirit4 but we are still left trying to identify what is fruit? From the passage in Mark and using a concept from Galatians, we will probably be able to identity part of the fruit. In Galatians, Paul states, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”5 it seems that this is the fruit of the Fertile Ground. The Fertile Ground seems to help the other soils by helping to carefully and cautiously break open the Compacted Ground; also by helping the Stony Ground find root and perhaps removing some stones; and by helping the Thorny Ground find a way to overcome and perhaps removing some briars.
All soils need help. Even the most Compacted Ground can become Fertile Ground. Yet, Fertile Ground can become Compacted. It takes continual effort for any one of the soils to make improvement. If one is Fertile Ground it is because the sower and someone else helped that individual become so. However, Fertile Ground remains so but by constant vigilance. Yet, Fertile Ground cannot neglect helping the other soils. Which soil are you? May the LORD bless all of us as we seek to let the seed take root, find its strong footing, face our thorns, and become more fruitful.
1. “Hammer that breaks rock.” Jeremiah 23.29.
2. “A way of escape.” First Corinthians 10.13.
3. “Grace is sufficient.” Second Corinthians 12.7-10.
4. “Fruit of the spirit.” Galatians 5.22-23.
5. “Bear one another’s burdens.” Galatians 6.2.