When is the last time you tilled the soil on your property or someone else’s? For some, tilling is a regular activity. For others, the word has little to no meaning. In times past, when life was agriculture-based, tilling the soil was part of everyday life. To till the soil was to prepare the dirt by plowing and adding to it all that would foster growth. Manure, or solid waste from animals, played a big part in the process of enriching soil and making it ready to receive seeds.
Good, Rich Soil
In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9), Jesus refers to four possible conditions: soil that is hard (like cement), rocky, thorny and rich (prepared, tilled). The thing about soil is that by itself, it is relatively useless. It needs to be worked and nurtured to serve its purpose. Manure, by itself, well … it goes without saying!
As Christians, we have been compared to sheep, trees, fish and clay vessels and soil. In many ways, soil might be the best way to describe our true relationship with God and description of authentic humility. A near antonym for soil is dust. At the beginning of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return (cf. Genesis 3:19).
The types of soil in the Parable of the Sower have been explained and analyzed thoroughly over the centuries, beginning with Jesus himself. It can take a lifetime just to reach the point of becoming good, rich earth. Even after plowing, cultivating and years of labor, we are, in and of ourselves, nothing more than empty receptacles. I believe Jesus had this in mind when He addressed his disciples in the simile of the useless servant (Luke 17:7-10). After we have, to the best of our ability, have kept the two great commandments of loving God and neighbor, we are useless in God’s kingdom until we receive the “mustard seed” of faith. This seed, once fully grown under God’s providence will blossom to its fullness (cf. Luke 13:18-19).
In the document, “Go And Make Disciples” three stages are outlined in the process of discipleship: personal conversion to Christ, sharing our gifts at Eucharist, and evangelization to the world. The first stage involves our personal enrichment and suggests many ways to nourish the soil of faith. There are many ways to prepare the earth of our hearts, and the excrement that is sin plays a vital role. Confessed sin is the fertilizer in the soil of our faith.
At Baptism, when the debris of Original Sin is completely removed, our being is at its purest and most fertile. Just as with the carbon dioxide, what we exhale provides nourishment for plants, the waste that is the by-product of sin provides real nourishment for our growth in faith. How brilliant! God uses everything in the stuff of creation so that “all things work together for good” in the lives of the faithful (cf. Romans 8:28)
As we approach the season of Advent let us pray for the grace and strength to attend to the gift of Faith and to nurture its growth by being good stewards of the good Earth we’ve been given as we await our Salvation.