instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, July 11, 2005

The parable of the parable

In a homily yesterday, it was suggested that what is generally called the Parable of the Sower may also be called the Parable of the Soil, and the four kinds of soil can be said to represent closed minds, shallow minds, selfish minds, and sincere minds.

I think it can be easier, at times, to judge how closed, shallow, or selfish our minds are than to judge how sincere they are. This gives us three points of reference to move away from, and if we manage to do that it's a good bet we're moving toward the fourth point, where fruit is produced a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

What if (as was also suggested yesterday) we call this the Parable of the Seed? In Luke's telling, Jesus says, "The seed is the word of God." We can say that the parable tells of four different kinds of men Jesus visits. The first refuse Him entrance; the second welcome Him, but then turn Him out when He begins to disquiet their lives; the third invite Him in, then forget He is there; the fourth receive Him as their honored guest, and give Him a place to do His Father's will.

And recall yesterday's first reading from Isaiah:
Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
The Father's will will be done. Good soil, sincere minds, dutiful hosts will accept Christ, and in them He will bring forth fruit abundantly.

One interesting thing about this parable is that, although Jesus goes to the trouble of explaining it to His disciples, He doesn't say just what this "word of God" is. I'm cheating by bringing in the opening verse of St. John's Gospel, but the synoptic Evangelists all leave this discernment as an exercise to the reader. Jesus says He uses parables so that those to whom "knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven... has not been granted" may "'hear but ... not listen or understand.'" But even His disciples do not yet realize that Jesus Himself is the seed Who must be sown in their hearts, sent by the Father to die for our sins.

Again and again, the Gospels show us that Jesus' disciples were not the quickest rabbits in the warren when it came to understanding what He was trying to tell them. But then, aren't we Jesus' disciples, too? Are we any quicker than that first batch of Galileans to truly listen to, to truly understand what we've heard since infancy?