“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.” (Matthew 13:1)
I’ve started to do something a little different when I want to verify the place of a scripture passage. Sort of going old school – I have my trusty large-pocket sized NRSV right beside my computer/keyboard! I had been availing myself of on-line editions because I thought it would be more convenient. But finding the actual book is the most convenient option. (Stay tuned because that insight will probably be applicable very soon!)
“Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” (Verses 2 – 4)
As I previewed this scripture citation I saw that the RCL includes the part where Jesus gives the explanation of the parable. I had thought to narrate the explanations as scripture tells them. But then by the end of the passage anything I might have said would be redundant. You are welcome to skip ahead and find the meaning as Jesus told it. Maybe inside I will give you my first impression and then you & I can compare my thoughts to what Jesus said. Hmm . . . seeds on the path quickly eaten by birds. You know how some people quickly take in the Words of the Lord but those profound words never seem to have an effect on them? That’s the interpretation that I would give (if I did not know what Jesus meant, having skipped ahead and have already known Jesus’ meaning).
“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” (Verses 5 – 7)
Hearers of the Word who do not have much depth to them. Unlike those who take in the Word quickly but it passes them by, these “shallow” people might or might not have good intentions. But it matters little because what they do take in may have quick effect but never lasts and they are onto the next “new” thing.
“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” (Verse 7)
Now here, I think, the Word of the Lord is taken in by believers with good intentions but they allow other concerns to take priority of the Word. It is not that they are not affected nor that they do not have depth to them, but other issues and concerns are given more attention and priority and what little effect the Word had in their lives is overshadowed and then overgrown with other things. Now, that may be strange if we believe that the Word of the Lord has strength and power in humanity. However, we have control over how we put that Word into action in our lives. That has been one of the musings I have had over this parable. That the sower and the Divine scatters the Word of the Lord freely to all places and seemingly gives little thought to where it might land. Is that an attribute that we could and should apply to the Divine? Let us move on a little and then come back to that thought.
“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Verse 8)
Ah! This is the best place for the seed to land. Where it can take root and grow, and nurture others. Consider too that it is not just the harvest from this one planting in the parable, but that seed grows into plants that bring forth new seed that can be planted. So maybe because so much seed falls on to good places that the Sower can be indulgent and lavish in where the seed is scattered; and that the Sower does not judge the ground it is planted on but hopes in a good harvest.
“Let anyone with ears listen!”(Verse 9)
My now close-at-hand companion, my large-pocket NRSV, tells me that after verse nine the disciples questioned Jesus about why he spoke in parables, and he had teachings just for their ears (and ours since it was recorded). So the RCL omits this time this teaching from Jesus and goes on to present the meaning. Let us compare that to my thoughts above.
“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.” (Verses 18 – 19)
I did not make room in my musing for an outside source. Does not understanding mean a deficiency in the hearer, or is it their “unfortunate” fate that the “evil one” took the “seed” or understanding from them? In the omitted dialogue between Jesus and his disciples he talks about those who do not see or hear, and thereby do not understand. Jesus does not weigh on in whether the deficiency is in those hearers/see-ers at that time and place, or whether they have been robbed of insight. But the implication is that the deficiency is in them. If I was so inclined, I could consult the commentators; I suspect though they would cast the blame on intentional deafness and blindness. Let us move on.
“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.” (Verses 20 – 21 [Emphasis mine] )
I called special attention to the the reason for trouble and persecution because it speaks to a deliberate act of not growing in the Word, as opposed to my thinking that it is a person’s shallow thinking or nature. Remember Jesus warned the disciples of what would be done to them if they held on to and lived out their faith. But Jesus said that would proof their dedication the Lord God. Hmm. Let us move on.
“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.” (Verse 22)
This one I got spot-on. It was not hard. Jesus’ interpretation and intent is harder on the thorny ground then mine. And since it is/was Jesus’ parable, I have to set aside my interpretation for that of Christ’s. And what does that say about some commentators’ insights that seem to be at odds at times with understandings. This has always baffled me, that there is not a better sense of consensus. This bafflement maybe why I have my NRVS beside, so that I can refer quickly and easily to the scripture passages. It has been my ongoing prayer that I had the same at-hand easy access to Spirit-inspired understanding of scripture.
“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.” (Verse 23)
I did not say anything at the initial telling of the parable concerning the various amounts of “fruit” that is yielded from the harvest. And that the harvest summary goes down in number and not up. I think just as the Sower with faith scatters the seed as the path winds and not according to where its best chance of growth is – so too the amount of harvest is not enforced. That, beloved reader, is grace. Consider, there are trees, bushes and plants that grow large and small sizes of crops and harvest. There are large flowers and small flowers. But all are beautiful and worthy to be tended to and nurtured. So it is with people, actually.
The important thing is that there is growth and evidence of growth. The Sower rejoices over all plants of all shapes and sizes, and is glad to see that has been sown has taken root. And, that the small delicate plants who desire to and are determined to thrive are given the chance to do so. May you carry that learning with you as you travel through life. Shalom * Selah!