Most versions of the Bible depict this week’s Gospel passage as the “Parable of the Sower” or the “Parable of the Seed.” These titles focus the readers’ attention upon Our Lord (the sower) or the seed (the Word of God). While this focus on Our Lord and God’s Word is always appropriate, we also know that both God and His Word are immutable, constant and true.
For the purposes of seeking ongoing conversion, it may be more appropriate to focus on the four types of soil that Our Lord describes in the parable. Perhaps the parable would be named, “The Parable of the Four Soils.”
The four types of soil described in the parable describe the different types of dispositions found in the souls of believers. The dispositions range from ignorance to inconstancy to worldliness to fervency. We should be mindful that practically every believer finds a combination of these dispositions in his soul. It is perhaps rarely the case that the believer can be described as having only one general disposition toward God.
This inconsistency depends on the degree of actualization of the virtues in the believer’s soul, personal circumstances, the degree of personal conversion and the quality of one’s human and spiritual formation. In some areas of a believer’s life, the soil may be very rich and conversion is less necessary. In other areas, the soil may be very shallow and his faith very superficial. This aspect of his life has not yet been converted and needs to be given over to God with greater trust and personal detachment.
In describing the four soils, Our Lord identifies enemies of a rich harvest: ignorance; persecution resulting from the Word; worldly anxiety and the lure of riches. In order to combat these tendencies toward unfruitfulness, God provides us with the tools necessary to produce fruit so that we yield an abundant harvest of faith and good works. Soil that bears healthy fruit and retains its mineral content requires rain (grace), fertilizer (suffering) and tilling (discipline). Leaving a field of soil lie fallow never generates a crop. In the parable, God provides the seed of His Word and we are to be receptive participants in yielding a good harvest.
The disposition of receptivity is often difficult for believers to assimilate. Most people would rather not be receivers of God’s Word. Instead, they prefer to be self-determined and active agents or be “in control.” It should be noted, however, that receptivity does not mean passivity.
In the parable of the four soils, receptivity is that disposition which allows God to be the primary acting agent actualizing the gifts and talents He has given us in order to best spend our time and effort working toward building up the kingdom. It means allowing God to be in control and to be directed by the graced movements of the Holy Spirit – not doing merely what we desire.
In this way, the seed of the sower can bear the rich fruit that the sower seeks to plant because the soil has been cleared of obstacles that prevent growth, or a lack of depth has been remedied by a more generous portion of soil. We are to cooperate in the growth that God begins in us.
We do well to pray to be like the last type of soil described in the parable in every aspect of our lives, and to honestly admit that not every area of our lives is quite as rich. Our humble admission of the rocks, thorns and lack of depth that prevent us from reaching our true saintly potential is the first step toward cultivating a soul worthy of the sower’s seed.