Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hear then the parable of the sower

‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

- Matthew 13:18-23

Jesus has preached to the crowds the parable of the Sower. In the previous two readings, we hear his preaching style and also his personal discourse on his use of parables to disciples. Here, he continues his talk to his disciples, elaborating on the meaning of the parable.

It strikes me in some way that we are given not just the parable but also the private discourse to the disciples. We are all included as disciples here in this gospel - we're given Jesus' private instruction to his followers. That's quite a privilege in some sense, and it implies that by being included in the audience for this private dialogue, we all have a rather privileged status. Imagine having heard just the parable, just the "riddle" that we are to tease out and be drawn into and come to understand for ourselves, with whatever our "ears to hear" may give to us. What would we then understand? I think it's important to consider this idea of understanding in the context of Jesus' preaching and his explanation for his use of parables with the crowds. He wants people to be drawn to him through a kind of internal sense of acceptance of truth and understanding. It's like there is a depth within each of us that responds, or not. In the beautiful poetry these gospels always present to us, the mystery is not just in the riddle or the parable, not just of the kingdom. There is also the depth of mystery in ourselves, that place so deep within us that it responds without merely or purely an intellectual assent to Jesus. There is a depth of relationship to love. It is similar to looking back on a loving relationship one may have with a spouse or longterm love or deep friendship, its beginnings and unfolding: our initial response to a person, the beginning of relationship, starts from an internal depth of the self we're not entirely conscious of. At least, I feel this is so - and that this is also true of the relationship which unfolds to Christ and to this kingdom and the Father that he's preaching.

So, we are to be drawn in by the parables from a place of depth within our own hearts, the center of consciousness. Jesus' parable of the Sower teaches us about himself - He who is sowing the word - but also about ourselves and our own nature and what happens with the word in us and in our lives. The birds that come and snatch away the word symbolize "the evil one" - who comes to snatch away what was sown in the heart in those who do not understand. The rocky ground is symbolic of those who receive the word planted in their hearts with joy - but when persecution or difficulty arises they fall away; the seed does not take hold with a good root. They cannot endure the difficulties that will come with the life of the kingdom, or for the life of the kingdom. The word sown among thorns are those for whom the "worldly" life gets in the way of the life of the kingdom: concerns about money and wealth, image or the "praise of men" and anxieties and fears turn them away and consume them; they are choked by thorns. 'But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’ And then there are those who will receive this word in their hearts and understand. The Greek word translated here as "understand" (σινιείς) has as part of its root the word that means "together." It is an implication that they "put together" that which is sent with that which "takes in," and in some sense therefore the making of relationship. They will survive the stresses and difficulties of this spiritual following, they will not be deterred by the "worldly" cares. And they will go on to bear fruit. Even among this group there will be great variety: each with his own way to go, the yield may be a hundredfold or sixty or thirty.

Retelling this story in my commentary, it strikes me what great variety of people Jesus is talking about among all of us in that crowd. There are those who cannot understand at all, those who understand but cannot endure hardship for the kingdom, those who finally are consumed by worldly concerns, and among those with whom the word truly takes good root in the heart, a great variety of outcome and gifts and yield. Often, I think, we expect a sort of sameness to all followers: a kind of grouping of us all into "the congregation." But this is the furthest thing from the illustration in this parable and Jesus' explanation of it. We are all here to bear fruit and gifts and yield each in our own time and capacity. And then there are those of us, three of the four categories in this parable, for whom the word cannot and does not bear fruit. When we hear the word and read the scripture, I think it would do us well in our own time and place to bear this in mind. Everyone is not necessarily going to follow or going to "get" this -- certainly not all at once. We're not all in the same place. The great Teacher himself has taught us this via His own expectations.

When we choose to follow, those of us who are the "privileged" ones who read the personal dialogue to the disciples, those of us who are freely given this understanding and teaching and explanation, shall we then think about what it is to bear fruit? to understand and blossom and grow and bear a yield for the kingdom? We must first have that word take root in our hearts, and care for the good soil, and take care that we cultivate our ears to hear and eyes to see. The word grows in our hearts as an entry into relationship with a spiritual kingdom. How do we grow from there?

No comments:

Post a Comment