Posted by: Dan | September 23, 2006

The Dying Seeds

Recently I have found myself returning again and again to the parable of the sower and the seed in Mt 13 and Lk 8. I have been struck by how the odds are stacked against being the sort of seed that bears fruit. The seed that falls on the road (lacks understanding), the seed that falls on the rocky soil (too afraid of suffering), and the seed that falls among the thorns (too much money and worldly concerns), all of these seeds die. It is only the seed that falls on the good soil that bears fruit. It worries me that the absence of understanding, the fear of suffering, and an overabundance of money and worldly concerns seems to define much of the contemporary Western church. No wonder our churches are dying. However, this is a tangent to the point that has recently struck me, so I'll turn to that point now.

For the longest time I read this parable as though it contrasted abundant life (the seed that falls on the good soil) with the sort of life that is destroyed by the powers that are pressed into the service of death (all the other seeds). I have only just realized that this is a false dichotomy. I began to understand the parable differently when I began to read it in light of Jesus' words in Jn 12.24:

Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

The seed that falls on the good soil has not escaped death. It too will die, just like the other seeds! The contrast between the seeds in Mt and Lk is not a contrast between life and death, it is a contrast between fruitful dying and fruitless dying!

Of course, as the context of Jn 12 makes clear, Jesus himself is the good seed, and his death produces many more seeds, it produces the crop that is “a hundred times what was sown.”

If we, then, are to live as those rooted in the good soil, we too must live a life that is oriented towards death. We too must set our faces towards Jerusalem. This orientation has nothing to do with morbidity, rather it is the inevitable outworking of the love commandment. Because we are so committed to loving God, and loving our neighbour, we choose to die to ourselves. Furthermore, this orientation is normative for Christians because those who are “in Christ” share in his death. To be in Christ is to be crucified with Christ (Gal 2.20). As Jimmy Dunn says, “[Paul's] gospel is not that the trusting sinners escape death, but rather that they share in Christ's death.” Naturally, the only way we can live with this orientation towards death is in the power of the holy Spirit that provides us with hearing, understanding, a true heart, and the ability to persevere (the characteristics of the seed that fell on the good soil).

Thus, the supposed contrast between abundant living and suffering death, that I first imagined existed in the parable of the sower, is revealed as a false dichotomy. All seeds will die. All of us will die. The question is what sort of dying we will experience. And we must remember that our type of dying determines whether or not we will bear fruit or remain fruitless.

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