My grandfather was a farmer. When I was quite young, I used to go to work with him at planting time. I loved to see him get the animals ready, put on their yokes, and hitch them to the harrow and plow. “Where are we going to plant today?” I would ask. “Down yonder,” he would reply. He knew well where the fruitful ground was.
I loved the moist, rich smell that rose from the ground when the tip of the plow broke the earth. As my grandfather prepared the furrows, I would bury the seed. “This ground is fruitful,” he would say. Later we would go back to the field to see the first green sprouts coming up. Soon the shoots became stalks, and then the grain would appear. The plants continued to grow until they were mature.
At harvesttime, the workers would cut the sheaves and take them to the threshing area, which consisted of poles wired together into a large circle. The sheaves were placed on the ground around the outside of this circle. Then the horses came and ran around the circle, trampling the sheaves, which loosened the grain from the stalks and crushed the kernels. Next, workers came with their tools to fan the chaff, separating it from the grain. After their labor was done, the workers sang and danced and enjoyed a traditional meal of roast lamb. It was a beautiful rustic celebration. The grain was stored in sacks and later processed into a variety of useful products.
And yet, despite all that we did to plant and harvest, the success of the whole process was primarily based upon the richness of the ground, the weather, and other conditions beyond our control. Without these conditions, the seeds would not have germinated, and there would have been no harvest.
During Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, a great multitude gathered by the seaside to hear Him teach. He spoke to them of a sower who planted seeds in different kinds of earth—stony, thorny, and fertile—and received different amounts of fruit.
He then taught them another parable, recorded only in the testimony of Mark, that focuses on what causes a plant to grow. He said:
“So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;
“And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should … grow up, he knoweth not how.
“For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.
“But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come” (Mark 4:26–29).
In this parable the sower plants in faith and harvests in joy. Once the planting is done, he simply awakes one day to find that his seeds have grown to maturity. He discovers that under the influence of the soil’s richness and the sun, rain, wind, and dew, as well as other factors he cannot manipulate, the leaf sprouts and the ear is formed.1
An important lesson of this parable is for those of us who are teachers, whether in the home or Church classroom, or who are involved in missionary work. The germination and full flowering of living gospel seeds in the hearts and minds of those we teach depends on factors over which we may have little control. The choice of whether a person will ponder and accept the truths of the gospel belongs, as a matter of personal agency, with those we teach. If a person’s testimony is to grow until it bears mature fruit, or conversion, God must be the primary force behind our harvest. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we may participate in the education of those who are growing and becoming fruitful. We, as authorized sowers, need to understand and trust that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is a living seed and that if we will teach it, the grace of God will attend those we teach, as they grow to spiritual maturity and bring forth good works. Our joy will then be full in the day of the harvest.
When I was a mission leader in the Independencia Ward in Santiago, Chile, we focused on inviting the influence of the Spirit into the lives of the new converts. From that period of time in that ward have come some of Chile’s great priesthood leaders: seven stake presidents, two mission presidents, two regional representatives, one member of a temple presidency, and a great many bishops.
Why was the harvest so successful? It came from the fruitfulness of the ground, and it came from God. Therefore, the joy I feel comes from knowing that “the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself” (Mark 4:28). A favorite hymn reminds us that when we are planting for the Master, we do not labor alone. Indeed, when we seek to sow precious seeds of gospel truth, we can be assured of divine help:
Thou who knowest all our weakness,
Leave us not to sow alone!
Bid thine angels guard the furrows
Where the precious grain is sown,
Till the fields are crown’d with glory,
Filled with mellow, ripened ears,
Filled with fruit of life eternal
From the seed we sowed in tears.2