Jesus said this parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.” And when His disciples asked Him what this parable meant, He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.” As He said this, He cried out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Luke 8:5-15 (Gospel of the 4th Sunday of Luke)
Today’s Gospel lesson couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. The Parable of the Sower is not only one of my favorite passages of Scripture but it guides my ministry on a daily basis.
When I was a young priest, I said to my Spiritual Father one day that I was getting frustrated because I didn’t see quick results from my work. I guess I expected to give sermons and see people running up to me and saying “Father, I finally get it.” When I didn’t get this, I quickly got discouraged. My Spiritual Father said to me “Imagine that you have a big bag of seed. Every day you get up and walk down a path and throw the seed. You don’t get to turn around and see if the seed grew. You don’t even get to walk down the path again. Every night, when you are tired, you put the bag down and sleep, and the next day you get up and start throwing the seed again. Your job is to throw the seed, not watch it grow. If you take comfort in doing your job, you will be a lot more fulfilled. Just throw the seed, that’s all God expects.” He was right. I now focus on throwing the seed, and not whether it grows. And the reason is because the seed can only grow in the fertile soil of a good heart. I can’t control hearts, only throwing seed into them.
I write about this often and it bears repeating frequently. God rewards effort, not success. Because success is not something we can always control. I can preach a dynamic sermon but what I can’t control is if people are listening to it. Our church can plan an outdoor picnic but it can’t control if it rains and no one comes. I was asked before a youth event last year “Do you think this event will be successful?” And my answer was “I don’t know. I’m just focused on throwing the seed.”
This can be said for almost any job or role we play in life—do you best to throw the seed. Focus on effort, not success. And don’t worry so much about failure, again it’s the effort that matters. This applies to raising children—raise them as best you can, throw as much seed (spirituality, morality, good work ethic, good decision making, etc.) and then let them go. Their success will likely be a result of your efforts but their failures are theirs to make. Same thing with teachers—teach your students as best you can. Make the effort, throw the seed. If they don’t want to learn, that’s on them.
This Gospel reads differently this year, because of the pandemic. A lot of things we are usually “successful” at are not on the table. We won’t be having a successful Greek Festival in our parish this year. We aren’t having a successful in-person Sunday school program, because we’re not having in-person Sunday school. We aren’t successfully packing our sanctuary with worshippers each Sunday because there are limits to how many people can safely gather. Rather than focus on success, we are choosing to focus on effort. We are offering a Saturday Liturgy because we can’t everyone in on Sunday. We are offering a video series for Sunday school. Not as many people are opening it as we had hoped. I’m not sharing these things to boast, or to complain, only to say that we are focusing on effort, not “success”, because effort is what we can control. We can choose to throw the seed.
Notice that the sower did not just look for the good soil in which to throw the seed. He threw it everywhere. He probably knew that the seed wouldn’t grow on the rocks but He didn’t want to preclude the chance that it might. It’s the same with us. We need to throw seed everywhere, and focus on throwing it, rather than growing it. This is not a haphazard “throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks.” It is rather a “give as good of an effort as I can to throw the seed to as many people as possible.”
On the receiving side, the seed of God (and other seeds—education, morality, love, etc.) have been thrown to each of us. The soil that is in our hearts to receive the seed is our responsibility. Is our heart hard like the rocky ground? Is it distracted, like the ground covered with thorns? It is checked out, like the ground on the path where nothing can grow? It is fertile and ready to receive the seed, grow it and spread it?
Ideally, our hearts have good soil. They hear the word of God, accept it, internalize it, and live it. And from them, the Word spreads to others, it yields some results. In order to cultivate good soil, we need patience, we need consistency. This is why we pray often, why we worship, why we read scripture, and why we seek to live out the Christian life on a daily basis. These things grow and make fertile the soil in our hearts.
God has put His seed, His Word in us. He expects a return on His “investment” in us. Ideally His Seed in us should yield a “one hundredfold return.” Likewise, when we invest ourselves in God, we also hope for a return, eternal life. When our soil yields a positive return, we are well on our way there.
When the holy Fathers had assembled all of the science of the soul, with the divine Spirit they exampled all things synodally, and inscribed the divine and all-blessed Symbol, as if God Himself had written it. Therein they lucidly and most truly teach that the Logos is, without beginning and of one essence with the One who engendered Him. Teaching thus, these famous and truly happy godly-minded men are clearly faithfully following that which the Apostles taught. (From the Praises of the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Focus on effort. Effort to receive the seed of God and hold it fast in your heart. Effort to throw the seed of God to as many people as possible. Effort in whatever situation you are in—in family, at work, wherever. Focus on effort and when you’ve made a good effort, be content with that and know that God is please with that!