It seems the land on which our house is built is the perfect breeding ground for thistles, a particular type of weed that is painfully prickly and extremely difficult to remove. No matter how many plants my wife and I remove, there are always more. Related to this month’s reading from Matthew, the parable of the sower, these thistles can grow abundantly regardless of the location or quality of the soil.
These pernicious pests thrive whether along the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, or on good soil (which we purchase from the hardware store). Ironically, despite their ubiquity and resilience, thistles end up in the trash. Jesus offers a more nuanced explanation to the crowd regarding the sown seed, which the disciples come to learn is the message of the kingdom of God.
Along the Path
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. (v. 19)
In processing this verse, it is vital to remember first that the devil, “the evil one,” belongs to God. Satan is a created angel, fallen in wicked disobedience. Therefore, Satan has no power outside of the Lord’s allowance. Second, God takes no pleasure in the eternal death of anyone. Jesus redeemed all people.
Based on these facts, we can dismiss any notion that Satan took the seeds without the allowance of God or that the wicked one’s pilfering is in keeping with the Lord’s desire.
The answer to how this seeming contradiction can be lies in the state of the hearer’s heart. The message of the kingdom of God is the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit sows the seed. His goal is always that the seed take root and produce saving faith. Jesus quotes Isaiah (6:9–10) here.
For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. (v. 15)
In wickedness and rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit, some make themselves spiritually dull. The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the hard-hearted recipient and the thriving devil.
On Rocky Ground
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (vv. 20–21)
In this case, it’s important to remember that God in His Holy Spirit is not only the Author of our faith but also the One who maintains that faith. God sustains our faith in Jesus Christ through His Word and Holy Communion. The Holy Spirit uses these divine tools to nurture the “root” to which Jesus refers.
In this way, the Holy Spirit holds us in faith against tribulation and persecution on account of the Word. In this sense, there is an encouragement to avail ourselves of the Word and Holy Communion that this root would be firmly established.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (v. 22)
God is the Giver of all good things. He gives them for our benefit, and He calls us to be good stewards. There are two salient challenges to good stewardship that are germane to this portion of the parable. First, we can allow the care and improvement of God’s good gifts to consume such large portions of time and energy that we neglect the things of heaven—namely, worship, Bible study, devotions, prayer, and fellowship with other Christians. These are the places where the Holy Spirit brings the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments, to edify and augment our faith. Second, we worship the gift instead of the Giver.
The Small Catechism teaches that we are to fear and love God above all things. Yet, often we so fear losing and cherish so deeply our material goods, vocational success, enjoyable pastimes, and even relationships that we allow them to eclipse God Himself. The sinner places God’s gifts in such a place as the gifts can choke the Word.
On Good Soil
As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. (v. 23)
We wonder how the soil became “good” and what that means. God’s Word teaches that in our sinful nature we are blind, dead, and enemies of God. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, we are spiritually bound to misunderstand, ignore, and reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The soil of a man’s heart is “good”—that is, able to understand the Word—only to the extent that the Holy Spirit has made it so. Man does not assist in his own conversion in any form or manner.
By the work of the Holy Spirit in the Word, the Christian is enabled to “hold it fast in an honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15). In grace, the Holy Spirit continues to empower the Christian to trust in Christ, such that he bears fruit and yields acts of love to God and service to his neighbor.
Continue exploring in Matthew 11:2–20:34, Concordia Commentary.