Analyzing the Soil

By Sarah Puryear

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 4:1-20

1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that

‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”

13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20 And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”


Hearing this parable as a child, I wondered: was I good soil? Or was I perhaps scorched, thorny, or shallow soil? I worried that every time I failed in my Christian life, I proved myself poor soil for God’s word. Years later, I now find this parable encouraging, for at least two reasons.

First, the encouragement comes from the description of how the sower casts the seed. He is not inspecting the soil first to see if it meets his standard. He is not carefully digging a hole and planting one or two seeds. Rather, he is prodigiously casting handfuls of seed on the ground. In the same way, God generously, inexhaustibly casts the good news of Christ in the hopes that we will receive it with joy. As St. Ignatius says, “We will sooner tire of receiving God’s gifts than he of giving them.”

Second, encouragement comes not from judging ourselves as only one type of soil, but in recognizing the various patches of soil in our hearts. During Lent, examining our lives in the light of Christ, this parable invites us to consider:

Where have I sensed the hope of the gospel being snatched from me?

What word have I received with joy from the Lord in the past but have forgotten?

What current trouble tempts me to fall into discouragement or despair?

How might I sink deeper roots into the soil? What habits would better ground me in my daily life in Christ?

Are the cares of the world or desire for wealth choking out my sense of what truly matters in light of eternity?

What aspect of the good news am I invited to receive with joy today?

We should never approach an examination of conscience with a spirit of condemnation toward ourselves. Rather, it is an invitation to receive more of God’s gifts — more of his forgiveness, grace, and risen life. In prayer, we allow these seeds to sink into our hearts and take deep root there, where they will begin to bear fruit.

The Rev. Sarah Puryear lives in Nashville with her family. She is currently staying home with her young kids after having served most recently at St. George’s, Nashville. She enjoys writing for TLC’s Covenant blog.

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Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Kinshasa – Province de L’Eglise Anglicane Du Congo
The Diocese of Upper South Carolina


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