Test time! We’ll be grading on a 10-point scale: Anything below 70 = F. Ready?

To ease test anxiety, take a deep breath and visualize my favorite teaching moment from the gospels.

“The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. / And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.”—Matthew 13:1-2.

We don’t have to do anything for this test, except be honest with ourselves, and see how far along we are in trusting God’s will: how much patience we still need to learn.

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; / Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”—James 1:2-3.

Grade F: By the wayside

“…Behold, a sower went forth to sow; / And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up.”—Matthew 13:3-4.

Jesus later explained most of this to his apostles. Remember, he spoke to the crowds only by parables.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”—Matthew 13:34.

But to his twelve apostles he spoke openly:

“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.”—Matthew 13:19.

Before we can hope to fight temptation, we first have to understand how to fight it.

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”—Luke 8:11.

Like God, the word of God is everything.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life: /…/ That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us….”—I John 1:1,3.

You could say that the word is God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”—John 1:1.

Before I can follow God’s will, I have to understand the word.

However, before I can get to that point, I have to understand who the sower is. We aren’t told—which seems odd, since it’s the title of the parable. As you read, keep this in mind, and decide for yourself the identity of the sower.

This first type of ground, the wayside, is for those who don’t understand the word of God. Think for a moment. Do you understand it? Do I? I’d like to think I do. But we’re human beings. That means we don’t know much, unless it can be proven with math and the scientific method.

“…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”—Luke 23:34.

I think of that plea from the cross as the definition of humanity, which is (or should be) humility.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—John 6:38.

Therefore I humble myself by acknowledging that I don’t understand everything taught in the Bible. Think about that. Who would dare claim such a thing? I try. Sometimes I think that I have flashes of insight. But it is never total. Should I expect it to be?

My grade: F!

“And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?”—Mark 4:13.

So this is really a learning exercise. If we can understand this parable, which is all laid out for us, then we can apply what we learned to the others.

The sower gave me the word of God. This is the first hint at the sower’s identity. Who gives us the word? How does it come to us?

When I don’t understand, it’s because my earth failed to absorb the seeds. I wasn’t doing anything with the seeds, so the birds came and ate them. When we leave our faith up for grabs, and don’t take responsibility, the potential we have for loving one another slips away.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. / By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”—John 13:34-35.

Did you fail too? Don’t give up. Understanding is all we lack. That can be overcome with patience.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; / And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”—Romans 5:3-4.

Grade C: Rocky ground

“Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: / And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.”—Matthew 13:5-6.

We want the seed to reach good earth, but there’s always something in the way.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; / Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”—Matthew 13:20-21.

Notice that the sower is no longer mentioned, and won’t be for the rest of the parable. Yet, everything that happens is a result of his/her actions.

So far, this is my highest score. Sometimes I do understand. I get it, and I’m so happy. Though I have faith in the word, I struggle during tribulation because of a lack of faith in myself. Faith is the root; if it’s strong, then so am I. But sometimes I get caught off guard, overwhelmed.

“But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”—Matthew 14:30.

If you’ve made it this far, then you somewhat understand the word, but have trouble using it. The rocky ground is where we suffer temptation from within. Maybe we’ve built a stone wall, which keeps everything out, including the word. Or it could be that our hearts are cold, refusing personal investment and connection. Whatever the case, the lack of faith is due to fear. We think that we have to protect ourselves, look out for number one. But this shuts us off, not only from the damage of living, but the love of living.

Since we’ve made it to Grade C, it’s time to start using our understanding to fight temptation. The Bible is full of quotable mantras. This is my favorite one for dealing with fear:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”—Psalms 23:4.

Repeating this to yourself in times of need may not make you fearless. It won’t solve all your problems. But it is a good first step. We have to remind ourselves that we are not alone.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”—Isaiah 43:2.

Rocky ground is the hardest level for me. I am my own worst critic. While the kingdom of heaven is within us, so are the worst angels of our nature.

My goal is to learn how to control my fear, by reminding myself that God is with me. Through patience and honesty with myself during prayer, and using the Bible’s mantras in mindfulness meditation, I have faith that my grade will improve.

Grade B: Thorny ground

“And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them.”—Matthew 13:7.

Whatever we put our faith into, that’s what gives us strength; whatever we put our time into defines who we are.

“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.”—Matthew 13:22.

Sometimes we get our strength from the things of this world: (the good) family and friends, and (the bad) addiction and greed. While these can work, if my strength doesn’t come from God, but from the things of this world, then I’ll have to choke and smother myself with temporary fixes. All we need is one God, but we need countless cars, clothes, food, cigarettes, promotions, larger apartments, etc.

At this level, we would’ve learned to understand a majority of the word, and dealt with our inner demons, but we’re still a fat camel trying to squeeze through a needle’s eye. The good news is that we’re almost perfect, just one letter grade remains. The bad news is that one can’t find anything more contrary to the gospels than the temptations of the physical world.

“…for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”—Luke 16:15.

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul…?”—Matthew 16:26.

“…My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”—Matthew 21:13.

Is that what we are: a den of thieves? Are we the Pharisees, or the Romans who cast lots for Jesus’ torn garments?

At this level, the thorny ground, we must answer these questions. Basically, where do we put our faith? The needs of this world spring up like thorns: unpredictable, unstoppable, at least by conventional methods.

“And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”—Mark 10:27.

We can’t fight sin without sinning ourselves; it infects everything it touches. That’s my problem. That’s why I’m here: to find a way to cleanse myself, and then share that knowledge.

“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”—I Peter 4:19.

We suffer so that we can learn patience. We need that very kind of patience to follow God’s will. We have to follow God’s will, or the cares of this world will overcome us. It’s an impossible fight without the word of God: the seeds that bring fruit according to our actions, i.e., what type of ground we’re on.

That reminds me of how the sower’s actions are all we have to determine his/her identity. And it reminds me of Judgment Day, the ultimate test.

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”—Matthew 16:27.

Grade A: Good earth

“But others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”—Matthew 13:8.

We are into science fiction territory here.

“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”—Matthew 13:23.

Our sower never stopped to clear the thorns and stones. He/she didn’t even seem to be aiming. Everyone got treated the same, no matter what type of ground they were on. This is how the word comes to us. The question remains: who is the sower?

At this level we understand the word, and rejoice in temptation, since it tests our faith. We are pros at being tested, because we’ve faced all our demons, maintaining patience through every tribulation; and we were able to do all that because we put our faith in the will and word of God.

If I were to get an A, what would the prize be? What’s my goal in all of this? First, my goal is to be what I just described. But there must be something beyond that, on the other side of the door.

“Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”—Matthew 7:7.

Once we’ve understood the word, and faced our inner and outer demons, then we are able to bear the fruit of our seeds. This is unique to the good earth. Since the seeds are the word of God, what kind of fruit would that be? Think back to how you received the seeds, and the peace they brought to your life: comfort during tribulation, strength during temptation.

“Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.”—Matthew 10:8.

That’s what Jesus said to his apostles, before sending them to minister to the people. For the twelve, Jesus was the sower. He brought them the word. For those ministered to by the apostles, the twelve were the sowers. They sowed by their actions: cleansing, raising, casting out; we sow, or bear fruit, according to our actions. Therefore, we not only receive the seeds, but give them to others as well.

We are the sowers. It’s all entirely up to us. The kingdom of heaven is within us. We are the source of evil in this world.

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”—Matthew 15:11.

We have two potential roles in this parable: giving and receiving. Sometimes we are the sower; other times we’re on rocky or thorny ground; or we may just be by the wayside.

We are free at any point to shift to another level, seek better understanding, fight our demons, free to decide if we want to follow God’s will at all: Some people like a lost cause; I know I do.

“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”—Luke 19:10.

Amen to that.

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