Seeking Good Results

In the Parable of the Sower (Mk 4:1-20; Mt 13:1-23; Lk 8:1-5), Jesus uses an analogy of a seed in different types of soil to exhort the people to be receptive to the Word in their lives and to bear fruit with it in the world. Bad soil—a heart that is cold, stony, or fearful—will choke the seed, whereas good soil—a heart that is open and willful—will help the seed reach its full potential and nourish the earth. It is among the most commonly recognized parables, and despite the disciples’ inability to understand it without explanation, it’s one that we understand quite well: good soil produces better results.

But despite its clarity, there is often a temptation with parables to take their analogies to the literal extreme, using our imagination to come to conclusions that were not intended. For instance, some might see us (especially those who minister in the Church) as taking on the role of the farmer, the ones who distribute the Word. It’s a logical connection, for sure. And as farmers, if we accept that seed scattered on rocky soil does not produce much fruit, then we might conclude it to be irresponsible to spend time and money carelessly dropping seed where the best results won’t come. Right? And if that’s the case—continuing with the analogy of the Word presented by Jesus—it might lead us to conclude that our spiritual resources as ministers should be carefully distributed only to those who are prepared and willing to receive the Word. It might lead us to falsely believe that the growth of the Word depends on us, that it couldn’t possibly grow unless we are perfect.

But we are not the farmers. And we do not make the seed grow.

As anyone who owns a driveway or walks on a sidewalk knows, plants continually find a way to grow in the most inhospitable conditions, surviving harsh weed killers and constant pruning, even breaking through concrete and cement to flourish.  Not only do they overcome less-than-ideal conditions without good soil, they manage to grow despite our best efforts to stop them from doing so. They may not produce “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold” like that of the good soil, but they can still produce good fruit.

And so it is with the people of God.

It is not our decision to determine who will receive the Word and in whom it will begin to grow. Despite all odds, goodness can flow with abundance. Despite years of sinfulness and obstinance, conversion can create someone anew. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with the soil and nothing to do with the attention the farmer gives it… the Word simply grows. It fights through the cracks, it overcomes the toxins, and like an abandoned parking lot after many years, comes to reclaim the space as its own to flourish and produce more fruit.

As ministers, people who are often stretched very thin with the many needs of the community, it can be very tempting to act as a prudent farmer, someone who counts the cost and calculates what will produce the best return, overlooking the people and things that offer us little opportunity for success. It can be very tempting to look at those who are “rocky soil” as not worth our time or energy because we believe that nothing good can come of them.

But we are not the farmers. And we do not make the seed grow.

When we forget this, reading this parable not as a call for openness in our lives but as a blueprint for who deserves our help, we limit greatly limit ourselves and our work. As Fr. Gregory Boyle, S.J. writes in his famous book Tattoos on the Heart,

If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones.

When become the arbiter of what is possible and what is not, seeking after the cases that will turn out well for us and writing off others as lost causes, we run the risk of overlooking the grace of God in our midst and an opportunity to nurture what could be an abundant harvest one day in heaven.

And it’s tempting to do so. When we have a room full of excited people who want to learn and a homeless person sitting at our door, there is much more of an upside to giving our full attention to the room full of people; it’s good soil versus rocky soil. But here’s the thing… the plant growing in the rocky soil doesn’t care that it’s not as big, that it’s a more difficult case, or that it has a lower upside. It just wants to survive. And it can survive.

Jesus is not a stingy farmer that counts the cost and so only plants the seed in the good soil, He plants it everywhere. As ministers, it is not our role to choose where to plant the Word, it is simply to nourish and encourage it wherever it can grow.

5 Comments on “Seeking Good Results

  1. Thank you for this reflection Casey. Glad you have found a practical way to share your reflections.

  2. Once again, Brother Casey, perfect timing. We just completed a study on the Mystery of God and this is a great reminder that hearts can be moved and opened in unexpected ways and places any day. Bless you!

  3. Another perceptive examination of Christ’s teachings from Brother Casey. You always offer much to think about. Thank you.

  4. This hit me like a ton of bricks. Food for thought–a good read for Lent. Thank you, Brother Casey.

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