Lent came relatively early this year, at a time when Washington is still cold, and the living creation surrounding us is largely stirring underground, preparing, stewing, awaiting spring. I recently asked a friend who is a farmer here in Washington what growing looks like in this season. The initial, subterranean phases of the growth and transformation, she said, are the most crucial for the yield of their produce. And much of that formation, in fact, depends on the quality and care of the soil into which the seeds are planted.
While many of us are not primarily farmers—literally or perhaps even spiritually—in Mark 4, we see that this point is noteworthy for Jesus: the soil matters.
It matters not only as we seek to understand others and how they might respond to truth, but also in our own lives. Many commentaries point out that Jesus is likely relating the different iterations of soil to seasons in our spiritual growth: seasons of richness, but also of dryness, burn-out, or perhaps the presence of worldly idols that ensnare and choke our ability to receive the Word. In each case, the seeds of truth are the same, but the soil on which they land changes the outcome.
If you’re anything like me, Lent may seem daunting, overwhelming even, as we alert ourselves to our need for Easter. But the invitation in this passage could not be timelier for this season. It is an invitation to check our own soil—the openness, willingness, receptivity in our spirits.
So, as we “let go” and “take up” this Lent, however that might manifest for each of us individually, there are two powerful themes we can draw from the agrarian metaphor Christ lays out for us in this parable: cultivation and cooperation. It is a process of cultivation, because we are merely laying the groundwork for the Truth to be received. We are not the Word, the seed that will ultimate become fruit, but vessels and humble soil from which it will emerge and come to fruition.
Secondly, this process happens in cooperation. We are not merely lone agents laboring over the composition and property of our souls. Cultivation within us, like with soil, happens in cooperation with external forces. We cannot do it in isolation from church, community, and the power of the Holy Spirit any more than plants can grow without water, oxygen, or protection from the elements. And just as we know that certain practices for nurturing the soil of the ground will have bearing on the crop, Lent is a time to remember that certain liturgies transform and return us to a posture of obedience and consistency in our own hearts.
May that be our posture this Lent, as we respond to the invitation to examine our soil and partake in the Lord’s work of cultivation, yielding grace in and through us this year and bearing fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold, and hundredfold, to the glory of His name.
Mollie Moore, Pacific Northwest born and raised, lives in Arlington, VA and works in Washington, DC, where she frequently plays rec. sports, attempts to brew beer, and most recently dabbles in rock climbing.