When I seed my lawn I am careful to avoid wasting it by scattering it on the walkway, tossing it upon rocks or planting it among weeds. I am diligent to insure that none is lost by such carelessness, but rather I am attentive in trying to insure that all the seed lands on well prepared soil.
We would expect that same care on the part of a sower in Jesus day.
Image by Julita
By Steve Hall
Throughout his three years as an itinerant preacher Jesus told a lot of parables. In spite of what the text says, todays story about the sower who went out to sow his seed is not a parable. It may have started off as a parable but ended up in the gospels as an allegory. More on that later.
Now an allegory is a short story that can be read on a metaphorical level. That’s what we read here. The seed, we are told, is a metaphor for the word of God. The seed that fell on the path stands for this group of people. The seed that fell among thorns stands for another group of people, and so on. A parable, on the other hand, has a singular point of comparison, such as when Jesus compares the Kingdom of heaven to the pearl of great price, noting the extremes to which someone may go to obtain it. In any case, the ‘parable’ of the sower in its original parable form probably ended with the line that comes midway through today’s reading: “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”
So, why do I dwell on this? And why is it important?
Two reasons for this review come to mind. The first is the very uniqueness of this extension that has been added to the story. No where else in the gospel accounts do we find a parable which has become an allegory. You might, from time to time, hear a sermon which attempts such a conversion; but nowhere else is such to be found in the gospels. Moreover, all three evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke include not just the story of the sower, but the explanation as well. This would suggest that the extended verbal account had become well established by the time the gospels were written.
Considering that there was a gap between the year of Jesus’ death, Resurrection and Ascension and the writing of the Gospels, it is quite possible, even probable, that the explanation was from those in the early Church. We can only speculate as to the rationale for the addition; but circumstances might suggest that the explanation came about because of the need to explain why some of the early converts or potential converts did not continue as Christians. Jesus told the original and, in the young Church, his parable leant itself to dealing with a mixed bag of ‘converts.’ So when the appropriate circumstances arose, Jesus’ words were used to account for the problem.
The second reason for a reconsideration of the passage comes from the common teaching of Scripture scholars, namely that the Scriptures are an account of God’s work among men. This central core is abundantly evident in the gospels. There Jesus talks about his Father, the Kingdom, the error of current human practices and the ideal to which we are called. While there are hints of that in the explanatory portion of the sower, the focus on men is beyond the ordinary.
So, if we posit that the original parable was completely contained in the story of the sower and did not include the explanation, what do we have? We have an account of the generous and welcoming nature of God.
When I seed my lawn I am careful to avoid wasting it by scattering it on the walkway, tossing it upon rocks or planting it among weeds. I am diligent to insure that none is lost by such carelessness, but rather I am attentive in trying to insure that all the seed lands on well prepared soil. We would expect that same care on the part of a sower in Jesus day. The sower in the parable may have been careless in scattering the seed, but I doubt it. He may have found these questionable areas — the path, the rocks and the thorns — impossible to avoid, but I doubt it. Yet, we are told that some seed falls in these fruitless places.
God is not careless. Neither does he find any person impossible, so he does not deny them the possibility. He sends forth his word to all. He speaks to everyone regardless of their circumstances. He does not restrict his generosity to those with a high probability of a favorable response.
Our faith is simple: God loves us and reaches out to all; and while he patiently waits to be invited in, he will readily turn every aspect of our lives into a blessing when given the opportunity. And, while the parable of the sower is about God’s loving pursuit, it is still worth reflecting upon my own response. With that in mind I search for an answer to the question of why I believe.
This question has been intended for consideration in this reflection from the beginning. But, while the question now finds its place, an answer does not readily come to mind. I search my years and I find numerous contributing contenders vying for the position of most eminently responsible for my faith. The expanse of liturgy was captivating, particularly the short ones with a thousand candles and mystical music. Christmas and Easter were glorious celebrations. Later on the preparations of Advent and Lent would also come into play. The nuanced elements of ritual and the majesty of worship fit well with a romantic mind. Later, the mysterious web of the Scriptures fed my intrigue. Studies in the Old Testament opened a new world. Studies of the New exposed the grandeur of a cosmic level plan. And, somewhere along the line of my life these and their divine source simply became an integral part of living. These and other things came to mind as I searched for the answer to why I believe. It was only in shifting my perspective that the truth became both evident and coherent.
As Bishop Barron so effectively pointed out during one of our retreat talks, our lives are not about man’s search for God; they are about God’s search for man. When I was open to the mysterious beauty of the liturgy and ritual, he brought it to my attention and fed me on it. When I desired to seek out the subtleties of thought and plan, he sent me where I could find it. When there was rock hard barren ground, he found for me an enlivening crack. Where the rocks were plentiful, he found for me a smidgen of dirt. Where thorns and thistles grew, he found for me a sheltered opening. It is easier looking back than it was during the process of life. In all cases his pursuit is now evident. The coherence of his gathering elements is now in view. Why do I believe? I believe because my character, my interests and my personality were guiding me while I was blind. He sought me out in my uniqueness and did (even as I objected) whatever was necessary to favor our relationship.
There is a song I like which celebrates the fact that, when I needed you (God) most you were always there for me. It’s a nice line, but misses the point. There is no ‘most.’ There is only the ‘attentive now’ — when we recognize that we need him most, and the ‘inattentive now’ when we think we can handle life on our own. In either case, whether our faith seems to be in fertile soil, or trodden path, or on rocky ground or cast among thorns — in any case he is always there for me.
Why do I believe? Because along the way he has shown himself to me.