Lk. XXX: Lk. 8:1-21
This section of Luke is all about hearing the Word of God and bearing fruit. During the forty days following the resurrection, Jesus taught His disciples preparing them for their mission so it’s fitting for us to consider what it means to listen to Christ.
Since the beginning of His ministry Jesus has been teaching and preaching the Kingdom of God (e.g. Lk. 4:18-21, 4:31, 5:1-3, 5:17, 6:6, 6:20ff), and He continues here (8:1). But here, He also begins to talk about the various responses to His Words that have begun to accumulate around Him. It may have been disconcerting at moments how small the band of disciples was; it may have been exhilarating how large the crowds could be. Some people walked away confused or offended, some stuck around for a little while and then trailed off (and some maybe eventually came back), and still others continued to follow Jesus wherever He went. Luke notes that in addition to the twelve, there were “many women” who followed Jesus, many of whom, like Mary Magdalene, had been healed by Jesus of “evil spirits and infirmities” (8:2-3).
Jesus describes these various responses to His teaching and preaching with the image of planting seed, giving four basic categories of people. The seed is the word of God (8:11), and some of it falls on the path, is trampled underfoot, and the birds devour it (8:5). These are the people who have heard the word of God but the devil comes and takes the word from their hearts (8:12). Jesus specifically says that this prevents the people from believing and being saved (8:12). Others are rocky ground who hear the word and receive it briefly with joy, but because they have no root and no moisture, it quickly withers away under testing (8:6, 8:13). The third category of people are those among the thorns (8:7). These also hear the word of God and apparently also believe for a time, but they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does mature (8:14). Finally, some seed falls on the good soil and grows and produces much fruit (8:8). These are the ones who hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience (8:15).
This whole section is about hearing the word (8:8), and hearing is connected to seeing and understanding and believing (8:10). This is how the next two pictures relate to the parable. The lamp that illuminates the house is another image for the word of God (8:16-17). But perhaps surprisingly, it’s a warning about how you hear (8:18). But the point is to be good soil by holding fast to the word with a good and honest heart, and bearing fruit with patience (8:15). Finally, His mother and brothers show up, and Jesus points to those who “hear the word of God and do it” as His family (8:19-21).
First, note that the exhortation of Jesus is: take care how you hear which means that the point of the different kinds of soil is not in the first instance a statement about what peoples’ permanent, eternal state is (though like your mother told you: be careful what kind face you make). The point is that depending on how you hear at any given time, you can be any one of these soils.
The warning here is about what you’re planting and how you are receiving the seed, particularly for those in the Church, those who often hear the word of God read, preached, and taught, perhaps especially in families or communities where there is much fruit. Jesus says for some the devil snatches the word from their hearts before they even have a chance to believe (Lk. 8:12). I suspect that this is indifference, apathy, boredom, doubt, fear, believing lies, and open animosity. Jesus also points to four things that can starve or choke His Word: testing, cares, riches, and pleasures (Lk. 8:13-14). The point is not that if you’re good soil, you won’t face these things. The point is that good soil endures, resists, and repents.
Second, the opening contextual notes from Luke are not accidental. As it turns out most of the twelve disciples are going to fall away when Jesus is arrested, and it will be the women who hold fast to Jesus to the end (Lk. 23:27, 49, 55, 24:1). Also, do not forget that it was Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who was the first to hear the word of God and obey: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). It was a long and tumultuous road as that soil bore its fruit.
Jesus says that holding fast to the word of God with an honest and good heart requires a family-like loyalty (Lk. 8:21), and this fits the agrarian image. You don’t plant seeds and expect an immediate harvest. You plant, water, weed, water, fertilize, weed, and water patiently, for a long time before harvest. The same is true of families and community. The deep joy and security of family and community takes time, patience, sowing, watering, and weeding. And the same is true of how the Word of God bears fruit in a believer’s life. You don’t do your morning Bible reading and then look around for spiritual watermelon to suddenly appear.
There also seems to be an implication here that being good soil requires a family-like community. Good soil is not an individualistic pursuit. It requires “mother and brothers,” who will read with you, pray with you, talk to you, and this includes physical, tangible support as well (8:3). While good fruit doesn’t just “rub off” on dead plants, good fruit can be an encouragement to saplings and those facing testing and temptation. Mature plants remind the younger, struggling plants to hold on, hold fast, be patient (8:15).
This task of holding fast to the word of God and waiting patiently to bear fruit is nothing short of death and resurrection: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:24-25). Christ is risen: He is our gardener so we can listen.