Monday, July 20, 2009

The parable of the Sower

Again he began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’

When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that

“they may indeed look, but not perceive,

and may indeed listen, but not understand;

so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” ’

And he said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’

- Mark 4:1-20

What does it mean to accept the word? What does it mean that the sower sows the seeds? Indeed, what does it mean, even, that Jesus chose to speak in parables - and that we come to understand them? These are all important questions to think about.

To sow the word is to spread the word of the kingdom. But the reality of that kingdom and its presence is something else altogether. We may accept the word, we may hear it in church, and read about it, and have parables examined and explained. But to accept the word in our hearts requires perhaps something else altogether. This is a question of what is in our hearts and how receptive we are to the nature of that word - to spiritual reality. Jesus repeatedly seems to say, in these gospels, that his very presence and the presence of his apostles and disciples who preach the word, is an indication of the kingdom at hand, the kingdom that has "come near." To understand, to grasp spiritual reality requires more than an intellectual assent or understanding. We comprehend truly with much more than merely our intellects. Love is more than a choice to weigh something and its merits. Faith, spiritual reception and understanding, and love all go hand-in-hand. Their natures must be intertwined because we know that God is love.

So Jesus illustrates himself through this story which is about sowing the word. The passage, when taken altogether, is a sort of parable about parables. So the evangelists are opening up to our eyes what it is to understand, how parables work, and what is expected of us. We are to have hearts prepared to receive. To receive this word is obviously much more than just mere comprehension. Jesus' parable of the Sower illustrates what it means to keep the word in our hearts: there is much resistance here to temptation of all kinds, and to keep it means that we resist not only temptation but great difficulties. This is more than understanding: it is, in fact, love. It takes a great deal of love to retain that word and bear its fruit despite temptations and through great difficulties.

In yesterday's reading from Matthew, we also read of the importance of bearing fruit. That was the parable of the Talents. In both today's and yesterday's readings, we read Jesus telling us about the importance of bearing fruit, producing more good from the good that has been invested with us, entrusted to us. Without the great love of this mystery, this reality invested in us, how do we bear fruit? The entire understanding here is of a great love, a treasure, in which we place our faith and live our lives, sometimes giving up enormous other possibilities for this life of the Spirit. We know that Jesus' apostles did so. This is a treasure we possess that lives in us and lives through us, and in so doing, we bear fruit, we multiply those talents.

But it all starts with the heart. Repeatedly, we are given to understand that our lack of hearing, lack of perception, is through hardness of heart. So, especially, the quotation above from Isaiah would tell us. We start with the heart, where our treasure is, where our love is. What we're asked, over and over again, is what do we love? I think that the Christian spiritual struggle refers us constantly to this question. We choose our faith, but as indicated by the parable, that's just the first step. Every day there is a challenge to make this pledge of faith again - and to choose to continue to bear fruit and make a choice. What do we love? Not an easy task. But then again, what we do for love is not always about what's easy!

When we reach into prayer, we open up our hearts. We link in relation to God, to this kingdom, to the Person that we know as Jesus. And there we seek love - to live it and to know it, to shape our lives with it.

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