I love fruit and vegetables. Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza, cake, chips, and just about any kind of junk food imaginable. (I’d be ashamed to share some of the creative junk food I’ve come up with while in seminary, but most involve an obscene amount of butter, sugar, or salt.) But I really do love fruit and vegetables too.
In fact, one of my favorite lunches recently has been vegetables, hummus, and fruit.
While my classmates make fun of me when I eat this (much like my co-workers used to when I ate an entire zucchini for lunch), I just love the fresh taste of this meal.
Fruit has also become a routine gift I receive. Pineapples are my absolute favorite fruit, and one of my neighbors regularly surprises me with one in front of my door. My boss also has a satsuma tree in his backyard, and has taken to leaving fresh-picked satsumas on my desk each morning.
I never get tired of these gifts because there’s just something about fruit that elates me. As adults, my grandmother still prepares for my sister and me by stocking her fridge with fruit, knowing that nothing will go to waste while we’re there.
Unfortunately, fresh produce is kind of high maintenance. Some items (like pineapple) requires quite a bit of prep. Others (like bananas) go bad quickly. All of it has specific season when it’s ripe. It can also be expensive (or at least more expensive than a lot of the junk food I also enjoy). Growing fruit and vegetables is also a pain. I’m no gardener, but I know there’s a lot of work in this kind of endeavor. Everything has to be just right to yield any sort of reward.
My grandparents used to grow different kinds of produce. My dad often tells me about my grandfather trucking in piles of manure to help the soil for their garden. At the time, they had a young black lab. This dog loved the manure. He regularly rolled in it and came back to the house covered in it. Despite this tremendous hassle, my grandfather continued to truck in the manure. He knew good soil was the key to good fruit and vegetables.
Jesus also talked a lot about soil.
The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a familiar one. In this nine-verse passage, Jesus presents a powerful representation of us hearing the word of the kingdom. His explanation later in the chapter shows that the path (v. 4) represents a person that hears and doesn’t understand the word of the kingdom (v. 19). The rocky ground (v. 5-6) represents the person that hears the word joyfully, but renounces it when persecution and trouble times come because of the word (v. 21). The last type of bad soil Jesus explains is the thorny soil (v. 7), which represents “the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and proves unfruitful” (v. 22, ESV).
The thorny soil is the one that truly stabs me in the gut each time I read it. I am so often unfruitful because the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches (which I think could also include success, selfish ambition, and just overall worldly desires) choke the word of the kingdom. Somehow, I let these things squelch God’s truth in my heart. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan astutely cautioned his readers, “Do not assume you are good soil,” remarking that he thinks “most American churchgoers are the soil that chokes the seed because of all the thorns.” This assertion is bold, but reeks of truth. How can we possibly expect to be good soil when we are consumed by the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches? When we have to use the margins of our planners just to squeeze in another appointment, activity, or job…convinced that if we don’t do more, our worst fears may come true (whatever those may be). Not only does this counter the gospel of grace, it robs us of the joy of the harvest. Being in the context of salvation, this parable is a harsh awakening to any American reader professing Christ.
Of course, let’s not forget the good soil (v. 8). Though grossly outnumbered, this soil represents “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). This good soil includes a sacrifice and endurance. It has withstood the test of time. It resembles the thorn in Paul’s side or the crown of thorns more than thorny soil of which I can too often relate.