|Van Gogh ~ The Seed Sower|
On another occasion Jesus began to teach by the lake-side. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he had to get into a boat on the lake, and there he sat, with the whole crowd on the beach right down to the water's edge. And he taught them many things by parables.
As he taught them he said: Listen! A sower went out to sow. And it happened that as he sowed, some seed fell along the footpath; and the birds came and ate it up. some seed fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil, and it sprouted quickly because it had no depth of earth; but when the sun rose the young corn was scorched, and as it had no proper root it withered away. Some seed fell among thistles; but the thistles shot up and choked the corn, and it yielded no crop. And some of the seed fell into good soil, where it came up and grew, and bore fruit; and the yield was thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundred fold. He added, "If you have ears to hear, then hear.' Mark 4: 1-9
IN THE FIRST VERSES we see that a large and eager crowd has gathered to hear Jesus who uses a boat as a pulpit to avoid being pushed into the water by his fans. These happy listeners are a contrast to the little group of suspicious investigators who, in the previous verses, have come down from Jerusalem: religious headquarters. Some people still do this when they write complaint letters to the bishop, papal nuncio or directly to the Pope.
Notice that Jesus sits while teaching which means that he teaches with authority. Mark gives us lovely details: the people are pushed down to the water's edge. Hold the picture mindfully and you're meditating. Maybe the people want to be able to hear better. No sitting in the last row here! And St. Mark tells us that Jesus taught the people many things. Jesus isn't stingy and never like a teacher, parent, doctor or cleric who's always in a hurry.
Jesus gets our attention, "Listen up, everyone!" Good teacher that he is, Jesus uses parables which are picture stories. Parables deliver a new perspective, causing people to question what they think they're so sure of. If I'm going to follow Jesus I've got to be ready for a new way of looking at things. I shouldn't be so sure that I know what God is about or up to!
The seed is God's Word. Big churches usually have pulpits that are elevated above the congregation - even many steps up so folks can see and hear better. Stepping into that kind of pulpit I always think of the seed sower walking through the field and while wearing the seed bag on the left side he/she digs into the bag and pulls out fistfuls of seed, throwing it in a splaying motion while walking. Seed thrown everywhere!
Notice this - there's nothing wrong with the seed - the problem is the ground which receives it. Notice too that most of the seed is wasted or lost, for one reason or another it simply doesn't produce. Footpath. Birds. Rock shelf under the shallow soil. Scorching sun. Thistle-weeds. But God isn't discouraged! Instead God celebrates wherever the seed-word is fruitful!
What's the fruit God is looking for? Maybe the Mass Preface for the Feast of Christ the King tells us: A kingdom of truth and life: a Kingdom of holiness and grace: a Kingdom of justice, love and peace. The parable invites me to think about my own life and why perhaps so much of God's Word fails in me or my family. Name it!
But Jesus knows human nature much better than we often do. He ends the parable by saying, "If you have ears to hear, then hear." If! Jesus knows well that we are each conditioned differently, that some people are simply not receptive, while others might be superficial, still others are distracted or pre-occupied. And even in those who ARE open, inviting and receptive to God's Word, there are degrees or levels of fruitfulness or effectiveness (thirty, sixty, a hundredfold). I'm left to ask, What do I want for myself?