APRIL 17, 2006

A New Parable About Plants
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Among the parables Jesus used for teaching, six have to do with the growth of plants. The most familiar of these is “The Parable of the Sower,â€? in which Jesus describes the way plants grow in different soil conditions (Matthew 13:3-8, 18-23; also in Mark and Luke).

I’ve been working with my grand-daughter Tianna on her science experiment. We’ve been looking at what happens to plants when you give them varying amounts of water. We started with four pepper plants and four tomato plants. Instead of talking about what happens in different soils, we’ve tried to find out how much water is best for plants to survive and flourish.

Every two days we water the plants. The first plant receives one teaspoonful, the second two tablespoonsful, the third a half a cup, the fourth two cups. The two cups category was suggested by her teacher, and we followed his advice, even though the water always overflows the container. We’ve followed the same procedure with both the pepper and tomato plants.

Predictably, the first plants, the ones that only received a teaspoonful, did not do well. They haven’t grown much and some of the leaves are starting to curl up. The second (two tablespoons) and the third (one half cup) plants are doing very well, with the third growing a little faster than the second.

It’s the fourth plant we were curious about. Why did the teacher suggest such a large amount?

At first, the fourth tomato plant really took off and it was soon an inch bigger than its next door neighbor. The pepper plant’s growth was not as dramatic; the fourth just about matched the growth of the third.

But after two weeks, the fourth tomato plant started to fall behind, and in a few days the third plant passed it by. Some of the fourth plant’s lower leaves became yellow and fell off. The fourth pepper plant also stalled and was passed by the third. I guess this is what the teacher wanted us to see: too much water can be bad for growing plants. I don’t know why this is; perhaps it’s too easy for roots to take in water, and the root system fails to develop (compare Matthew 13:5-6).

Now I’m wondering, what kind of parable might Jesus make out of our experiment? In the Bible, water often represents our spiritual experience of God through his Word and the Holy Spirit. Certainly Jesus wouldn’t teach that too much of a devotional life is not good for us.

Or maybe he would! Think about Christian ascetics who withdraw from the world to contemplate God full time. Maybe all that intake is not good for a person, if there is not at the same time use of this spiritual water in ministry in the world. The old saying seems to describe such people well: “So heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.â€?

Those of us who are faithful in church worship, Bible study, TLC groups may get to a point where our growth levels and begins to fall off. We’ve taken in more than we can use, and adding to the input of spiritual water at that time may actually damage our functioning as a believer. Until we start expressing our faith actively in the world, more devotional experience may only frustrate us.

A healthy Christian, just like a healthy pepper or tomato plant, has to grow according to the plan God has designed for us. That plan calls for a generous intake of spiritual water that can be used in fulfilling our destiny in service and worship. Finding that balance is important if we are going to be all we can be under the sunshine of God’s grace.