Read Mark 4
Focus on verse 16-17
Plants with shallow roots tend to sprout and grow into large plants quite rapidly. One of the more plentiful trees that grew in the part of the country where I grew up is called the trembl
ing aspen – so named for the way the leaves rustle in even the slightest breeze. The speed with which these trees can reach a height of thirty or forty feet is amazing to me. A few years back I planted a few of these in our yard in Wisconsin. By the time we sold that home about five years later these little sticks that I had stuck in the ground were as thick as a man’s biceps and about twenty-five feet tall.
Another variety of tree that grew commonly on my father’s farm was the oak tree. Unlike the aspen, these trees would take twenty or thirty years to reach a significant size, and we estimated that some of the larger ones in the pasture were closer to a hundred years old.
Possibly the most significant difference between these two varieties of trees was their hardiness and durability. Typically if we had a severe windstorm, there would be a number of aspens that would be either uprooted or broken down by the wind. The oaks on the other hand could withstand even the fiercest storms.
In today’s reading Jesus tells a parable of a man going out to seed grain, and how the grain, which falls in the different kinds of soil, demonstrates how different kinds of people receive the good news of eternal life. The seeds that fall on rocky soil have similarities to the way the aspen tree grows.
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (v. 16-17)
The seed that falls on the good soil is more like the oak tree, which slowly and steadily grows strong as it sends its roots deep into the ground and takes time to build strength into its trunk and limbs. Then when the storms of life rage against it to break it down it can stand firm against it.
It seems we live in a culture of increasingly shallow roots. Too many of us are blown down or uprooted by the first storm that that life sends our way. In a culture like this it is interesting to witness the response of people when they encounter a person who is not easily uprooted. It is typically one of two very opposite responses. There are some who are drawn to take shelter in the shade and protection of these “oak trees”, in order to gain strength by following their example and attempting to put their own roots down deep to become like them. There are others who rage against these oak trees in an attempt to prove that they are no better than the aspens. Perhaps what it comes down to is the spiritual DNA of the individual. Those who are themselves more like the aspens tend to resent the rigidity and unbending resolve of the oaks. Those who have the DNA of an oak, find hope and safety within that unbending resolve. Ultimately, when the final storm has passed over, what will remain will be the oaks.
I recently visited the farm I grew up on, and I noticed something about the back pasture which, when I was a child was primarily mature aspens and a few young oaks. Now, forty years later that same pasture is almost entirely an oak forest; the aspens are nearly all gone. Makes me wonder if perhaps this might be a parable of where our culture is headed, which begs the question…”will you be an aspen…or an oak? “