Mark 4:3, 5-6, 16-17 (NIV): “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed…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…Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive 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.”
As the sower sowed his seed in this parable, some of it fell onto rocky soil. This was not soil with rocks in it, but a thin layer of soil over a base of rock or hardpan. It was not the packed soil of the pathway where the seed could not even penetrate, but it was a part of the property that had not yet been worked and prepared for the seed. Since there was a thin layer of loose soil, the seeds that fell there by chance soon sprouted and began to grow. But the hard layer just below the surface kept the plants from developing a good root system. As long as the plants received frequent water, they were fine, and looked good, maybe even encouraging the hopes of the farmer, who would believe that he would be able to gather an additional crop from ground that he hadn’t even worked. But as the harvest season approached and the spring rains stopped, the plants, unable to find any moisture in their shallow soil, dried up and died.
Jesus likened those plants to people who make a commitment to Jesus impulsively, based on an emotional response, but without adequately counting the cost of becoming a disciple. Like an infatuated lover, they come with stars in their eyes, certain that the rush of excitement that they feel will last forever. But when the feelings start to fade into the everyday living out of their first love, their commitment fades along with it. When the inevitable times of trial, testing, and persecution come (and there are warnings about this for all of Jesus’ disciples, e.g., Mark 10:29-30; 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4; 2 Timothy 3:12; and lots of others), their faith quickly dries up because their commitment is shallow and has no strong root. And so they fall away.
Some are quick to write off those who seem to fall away because of a shallow commitment. But when the good farmer looks to expand his cropland, he doesn’t look at the shallow soil area and say, “Some stuff grew there once and didn’t do well, but I’ll just throw some more seed on the ground there and see how it does this time.” Nor does he say, “Some seed fell there by accident once and it didn’t do well when the rain stopped, so I’ll never plant there again.” Instead, he understands that the reason those chance seeds didn’t do well the first time was because the soil had not yet been properly worked. So he will take the time to plow the soil deeply to break up the hardpan. He will break up and nourish the newly exposed soil, and maybe even install tiling to ensure adequate drainage. It takes a lot of time and effort, but the good farmer knows that it will be worth it all, because that ground that didn’t do well the first time will now be productive and yield good crops for years to come.
To break up the shallow ground of a person’s heart takes just as much focus and hard work. It takes persistent prayer, consistent love, and a clear explanation, not just of the gospel, but of the cost involved in becoming a follower of Jesus (cf. Luke 14:25-33). It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of personal contact to prepare shallow hearts to receive the gospel. But the good disciple knows that it will be worth it all, because that person will now be productive, and will himself bring even more people into the kingdom of God for years to come.
Father, I have seen these shallow-hearted souls respond to the gospel and then fall away before long. This seems to be especially prevalent when we use emotional appeals to convince people to come to Jesus. And, all too often, I have seen Christians either write those people off, or try to convince themselves that, despite no apparent signs of life, they are “still saved.” How much better it would be for us to see that there is something there that is responsive to the gospel, and then do the hard (and time-consuming) work of deepening the soil of their hearts, so that the next seed we sow there will grow strong, deep, healthy, and fruitful. Amen.