One of the first career decisions that I made, even as a young boy, was that I was not interested in becoming a farmer. This is not because I did not respect farmers, or that I did not admire the hard work that they put in to running a successful farm. In fact, much of my life with my relatives, was spent in close proximity to farming. There were essentially two reasons why the decision not to enter farming was the one that I made. The first concerned the hard work that I referenced. My uncles and my cousins were raised or worked on dairy farms. This meant that every 12 hours the cows needed to be milked. There were no exceptions. For the health of the cows, they needed to be milked every 12 hours.
The second reason that I chose not to become a farmer, was that it did not appear to be a lifestyle that was terribly profitable. I watched the tremendous hard work that went in to making sure a farm was run to be successful. But the definition of what it meant to be successful by working on a farm, seems different than the ways in which one might describe success in life.
However, to understand the Gospels it seems important to understand farming. There were three major occupations in the time of Jesus. We hear often about the life of a shepherd and the raising of sheep. The second major occupation was that of fishermen. Jesus chooses disciples from among fishermen.
The third of course, was the occupation of a farmer. Very early in the Bible, in fact in the book of Genesis, we can understand the tension that existed between two of these professions. There was the nomadic lifestyle of the shepherds and the stable lifestyle of the farmers. In order for the sheep to be healthy, there was the constant search for new pastures. In order to be successful in the growing of crops, it was necessary to stay in one place. As can often happen, these two lifestyles had different priorities and different needs, which resulted in conflict.
But what is clear from today’s gospel is that the imagery Jesus uses about sower going out to sow seed for the farmer is one that would’ve been quite familiar to the listeners. In some ways, the gospel points out one of the great vulnerabilities of the farmer. Seed is sown and it falls in all kinds of places. While the sower can give some direction to where the seed is thrown, it was not possible for the sower to determine exactly where each seed would land.
As a result, it does not take much imagination to understand the point that Jesus is trying to make about the word of God, and its proclamation. Just as the sower can influence the direction in which the seed is tossed, so too can the prophet exercise the direction of the words spoken. But like the sower, the prophet cannot determine where the message will ultimately land, and perhaps most importantly, whether or not the message will take root in the changed lives of the persons who hear the Word of God.
Jesus also seems to quite adeptly describe the types of persons that we encounter still today when it comes to the life of faith. But rather than look to identify how these types of persons are evident in other people, perhaps it would serve us to look at how these types of attitudes are present in our own lives. When do the cares of the world choke us off? When do we neglect to pay attention to the foundation of our spiritual relationship with Jesus, and as a result fail to grow in the spiritual life? When is it that we find ourselves distracted by those things that should not be priorities in our lives?
What keeps us from growing in the spiritual life? What types of things get in the way of our allowing Jesus to enter ever more completely into our lives and into our hearts? The gospel provides some help in determining a starting point for being receptive to the Word of God. The soil needs to be prepared so that it becomes good soil. For spiritual growth to occur we need to give attention to our roots.
Our lives can be filled with many demands. But if we are to grow in the spiritual life we must make priorities. Many of you already know this, because the raising of children, or a successful marriage, or balancing work and home, are all things that you are already do. But just as we need to make time for children, to strike the appropriate balance between work and family, and decide what type of person we will become, so to we need to find that appropriate priority for the spiritual growth that we seek.
How? Again the gospel provides the clue. When we find ourselves being choked off by the cares of the world, we need to more completely seek out the Lord Jesus and his priorities. When we find ourselves becoming distracted by many things, we need to prioritize that time alone with the Lord Jesus which helps us to grow in faith. And when we discover there are moments when our soil is not well prepared and does not provide a good foundation, we must rededicate ourselves to entering into a deeper relationship with Jesus, the only foundation that leads to spiritual growth.