Jesus had a unique way of communicating. He spoke deep, cosmic truth by telling short, earthy stories. These were called parables, and they were designed to speak the truth of God’s kingdom from unexpected angles. We’ve titled one of these stories “The Parable of the Sower”.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
This parable has always puzzled me because it seems to teach that every person is either one type of soil or the other, and they don’t have any choice in the matter. A bit too Calvinistic for my Armenian bent. But what if it’s a spectrum instead of a grid, and Jesus isn’t speaking definitively, but rather generally?
One way to think about this parable is viewing it as a spectrum of how we relate to Jesus:
The foreigner is the one who is far from Jesus, who doesn’t know him at all, doesn’t believe in him and doesn’t care about him. This is the person who represents the seed sown along the path.
The fan is the one who has heard the good news and accepted it. They have experienced that moment of salvation, and have possibly even been baptized. But their excitement and emotion soon dissipate when they realize just what is being demanded of them. This is the person who represents the seed sown in the rocky ground.
The follower is the one who has moved past the “fan” stage. They have counted the cost, so to speak, but their faith has been stalled by the worries and troubles of life. They’ve gotten to a certain point in their faith but find it impossible to move forward. This is the person who represents the seed sown among thorns.
The friend is the one who has gone through all the stages to experience what Jesus said to his first disciples: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” This is the person who represents the seed sown in the good soil.
These, I believe, are stages along a journey rather than pre-ordained destinies. When we look at the parable through this lens, we see how Jesus is explaining the reality of our lives. We are not born as good soil, but rather must grow into that reality. Because of our sin, we are all born into that first stage of being a foreigner to Jesus, of being the seed along the path.
We move from foreigner to fan when we first receive the gospel and repent of our sins. This is the moment of salvation. Many people find themselves immediately ready to make this transition, while others need to hear the gospel and see it in action for many years. Sadly, the vast majority of people never move out of the sad stage of being a foreigner to Jesus.
We move from fan to follower as we pursue the path of discipleship. In this time the reality of following Jesus will strike us, and he will demand that we make certain sacrifices to keep pace. Many, many Christians do not successfully make the transition from fan to follower.
We move from follower to friend when we experience deep soul-intimacy with Jesus. This often happens when we go through great times of pain in life. As we come through these times we can say, from first-hand experience, with the Psalmist, “God is close to the brokenhearted.” But as with the other stages, very few people move to the stage of being a friend of Jesus. Too many turn away from God when they experience pain. Rather than drawing closer to him in the midst of it, we so often blame him for the pain.
God’s will for you is to be the good soil. He wants you to move from foreigner, or fan, or follower, to that last stage of friend. Where do you find yourself on this spectrum? I find myself moving backwards and forwards along it through the different stages of my life; right now I see myself somewhere between fan and follower. I have a road to walk, as do you, but my heart is comforted because I know that Jesus walks it with me.