This is the botany lesson that makes Jesus even more awesome. The way He taught and the analogies He used were more perfect than we first realize from our cute little produce corner of the grocery store, complete with artificial thunderstorms. Few of us understand the ins and outs of farming these days, but Jesus’ analogy is no less timeless. We may get some of our food from white-coated lab techs these days, but I have a feeling there will always be grain, corn, potato, and soybean plants popping up out of the dirt.
There are many ways that I’ve taken after my mom. For example, I received her inquisitive nature that enjoys the pursuit of “why.” The gift of the green thumb, however, is not one of the ways I’ve taken after her– unless we’re talking about crabgrass. I can definitely keep that alive but all else is pretty much doomed. It actually brought a decent level of anxiety into my life when I had a 30-gallon maple tree planted in my front yard because, as expensive as that thing was, I knew there was an unfortunately large chance that it would keel over by the end of the year.
I’m not sure any of that was relevant, but I feel better after sharing it. Thanks.
Last year, I was innocently and rather routinely reading through the Gospel of Mark when I reached the parable of the farmer scattering seed in chapter four. I must have already read it 50 times in previous cycles and studies through the New Testament, so there wasn’t much of that tingly excitement going on.
I read through the end and then let my eyes move on to the next section without much of a thought. But then I paused. Something felt off. Surely there was still something left for me to squeeze out of this passage. It’s the Bible! I hated the idea of reading just for the sake of reading… with anything but especially the Bible.
So I reread the parable a little slower.
…As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it (verse 4).
I paused again as if I was waiting for the light in the room to flicker. Nothing. Okay fine– next verse.
Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow (verse 5).
Pause. No mild earthquake to speak of here either. I went to move on, but then a single word caught my eye.
What does that mean? I wondered. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow? Shallow soil makes seeds sprout quicker?
Here’s where Google is awesome. Apparently, a seed that’s planted in nice, deep soil puts a large amount of its initial energy to putting out a good root foundation. As it sprouts, it’s giving equal energy to growing up as it is to growing down, continuing to spread the roots and secure its position and nutrient supply from the soil.
A seed planted in shallow soil has only one direction to go with the majority of its energy: up. It sprouts even though there is hardly anything keeping it in the soil. And since there is obviously limited opportunity underneath it, it redirects its energy and focuses on turning out bigger leaves as soon as it can in order to soak up as much light as possible. The problem occurs, however, when there’s a shortage of water and a little too much direct sun. The majority of the plant is exposed to the heat, and so it withers and dies when a healthy root system would have kept it well-nourished and protected.
There are so many obvious parallels in this example. The driving point Jesus made here is that following Him is not just for show or to live in the limelight. Without a good root foundation (prayer, community, reading of the scriptures and other books/podcasts, genuine worship), we have no nutrient supply. And the attention we think we want from others about being a Christian will only expose our lack of understanding and relationship with God. We will wither, dry up, and erode back into the world if we don’t resist the urge to grow “up” even if it’s an uncomfortably tight fit to grow “down.” No matter where we are, on a rock cliff or in a freshly plowed field, equal energy needs to be given to each.