In the opening pages of the book of Jeremiah, the Lord speaks to the prophet comparing His chosen people to the land in which they live. God says He remembers how the people in their youth followed Him into the wilderness, “in[to] a land not sown” (Jeremiah 2:2). He brought the people (which He likens to His first fruits) into a plentiful land, one which they defiled by forsaking God and His Word. Because of their disobedience, the rain did not come and the showers were withheld because they forgot the Lord their God who says “Return O faithless children, I will heal your faithlessness” (Jeremiah 3:22). He calls His people to break up their fallow ground, and to sow no more among thorns, or else will send forth His wrath in response to the evil of their deeds (Jeremiah 4:4).
Jesus draws a similar comparison between the people and the land in His parable of the sower, as the word of the kingdom is sown as seed in various soil (Matthew 13:1-23). As he sows the seed, the state of the soil determines the reception of the word and its subsequent fruit. For some who do not understand the word, the seed falls on a path, not fit for growing. For others who receive the word with joy but fall away in the presence of persecution, their soil is rocky with no root. Still others are distracted by the cares of the world or wealth, as thorny soil inhabitable for a fruitful seed. The good soil, however, is the heart who receives the word and bears fruit, yielding to its effectual work.
As for the land in Jeremiah and the soil in the parable, the human heart is made rich by the Word of the Lord, but diseased by human disobedience and disorder. The people of Israel had themselves become fallow ground, needing to be broken up by returning to their God, and staying away from the thorny soil of sin (Jeremiah 4:3). In His kindness, God reveals the people’s diseased hearts to themselves through exile, as they turned their backs, not their faces to Him. Yet His exposure is not to humiliate but to restore, as He promises:
See, I am going to gather them from all the lands to which I drove them in my anger…I will bring them back to this place and I will settle them in safety. They shall be my people and I will be their God…I will put the fear of me in their hearts, so that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing good to them, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul (Jeremiah 32:36-41).
Their God, who brought them through the wilderness and into a fruitful land which they made desolate by their rebellion, will again settle them in a land of abundance. He promises to not only restore the fortunes of their land, but to restore the soil of their hearts, by giving them “one heart and one way that they may fear me for all time” (Jeremiah 32:39; 33:11).
As God did for the people of Israel, so too He does for us. The soil of our hearts, though marred by our disobedience, He is able to renew. Like Mary Magdalene, we see a Gardener appear in the presence of sin and death, yet this is in fact the resurrected Christ who has restored the soil of our hearts into fruitful ground where we receive His word. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, breaks up the fallow ground of our souls so that we might hear the Word of His kingdom, understand it and yield to its work in us. Thanks be to God.