Last summer, one of my interns brought me a squash leaf that obviously did not appear like it was in good shape. Instead of its normal green, lush fullness, this leaf was brown, brittle, and crumbly. My intern was perplexed because the squash plants in the garden had looked perfectly fine just two days before, but now, a large percentage of them looked like they were dying. She could not understand what would have happened in such a short amount of time that would wreak such obvious destruction on the plants when she had been consistently caring for them. She had tended these plants from their inception, first preparing the soil, planting seeds directly in the ground, and then, as they emerged, ensuring that they were weeded, well-watered, and fertilized.
I reassured my distraught intern that she had not failed in her task of caring for these plants, but that she needed to come out to the gardens with me so that I could show her what was killing them. Kneeling by one of the diseased-looking squash plants, I pulled out a pocket knife and sliced one large main stem. Immediately, we could both see a large, wriggling grub-like larva that had been completely encased in the plant stem. I explained to my intern that some pests are not visible from the outside of a plant, but rather, you could only tell that there was an infestation when the plant started to die.
I thought of the squash bug infestation when reading Jesus’ parable of the sower that can be found in the book of Matthew. In this parable, Jesus used examples that would have been easily understood by his agrarian audience to describe the effects of the truth of the Kingdom of God – the fallen state of mankind as the result of sin, the eternal separation from a holy God as a result of that sin, and the need for the redemptive sacrifice of a Savior.
“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.’”(Matthew 13:1-23, ESV).
In the parable of the sower, Jesus described a farmer who was trying to sow, or plant, seeds. Although it was the same farmer who scattered all of the seeds on the ground in the hopes that all of the seeds would grow into viable crops, the characteristic of the soil on which those seeds landed dictated what would happen to those seeds.
The seeds that fell on the path were quickly consumed by birds, representing the efforts of the enemy of our souls to immediately remove truth from the ignorant hearts of those who hear the Gospel, but who do not understand it. The seeds that fell on rocky soil appeared at first to do well but did not last long, because the rocky soil was too hard to allow for any roots to grow. The rocky soil represented the heart of an individual that is quick to joyfully respond to the truth of the Gospel, but since that individual lacks any depth of character, and do not persevere to grow in their new-found faith, they quickly drift away when life’s hardships prove challenging. The seeds that fell on soil that supported thorny vines, at first grew well but then were choked out by the thorns. The thorny soil represented what can happen when those who first pursue Christ then allow desires for anything other than Christ to lodge in their hearts, choking. And the seeds that were planted in good soil were able to grow, and thrive, producing a rich harvest. The good soil represented hearts that are open to hearing the Truth, and that consistently pursue an understanding of that truth.
We usually think of the sowing of spiritual seeds in the context of the soil condition, or, in the meaning of the parable, as described by Jesus (Matthew 13:18-23), in the condition of the heart. But, what about seeds that are able to grow and appear to thrive, but suddenly display sickness and rot? I am not meaning physical sickness, but the sickness of a soul that is able to be hidden for a time, but that cannot be hidden forever. The squash plant looked healthy and hale, but the external appearance was deceptive, as the plant’s façade was hiding a sinister invasion that ultimately killed the plant. Not only did that plant die, but the other plants around it also died, until radical steps were taken to remove the contagion completely.
What do we allow in our lives, thinking that we can hide it for a while and that no-one will know? Is it something that we are looking at, that we know our eyes should not see? Is it something that we are hearing, and then possibly passing on for others to hear that should not be voiced? Is it some activity that we are engaging in, thinking that since it only is affecting us, it is no-one else’s business? Is it something that we are consistently thinking about, considering that our decision to simmer in our unholy thoughts will not ever be known by anyone?
I am also reminded of a song that I used to sing when I was a child. The lyrics were simple but profound:
Be careful, little eyes, what you see
Be careful, little eyes, what you see
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love
So be careful, little eyes, what you see
Be careful, little ears, what you hear…
Be careful, little feet, where you go…
Be careful, little tongue, what you say…
Be careful, little hands, what you touch…
The soil of our heart in which God’s seeds of truth are planted are certainly important, but so, too, is the maintenance of the boundaries that we deliberately place around us, keeping pests far away, so that our harvest might be bountiful.
So, be careful little eyes, ears, feet, tongues, and hands, knowing that the Father up above is looking down in love, and encouraging us as we continue to plant – and nurture – the seeds that He has planted!