July 1, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I have been away for a few days. It is good to get back to the gospel. Today I am taking the good news from Luke 8:4-15.
When a large crowd gathered, with people from one town after another journeying to him, he spoke in a parable. “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and was trampled, and the birds of the sky ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground, and when it grew, it withered for lack of moisture. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold.” After saying this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.” Then his disciples asked him what the meaning of this parable might be. He answered, “Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you; but to the rest, they are made known through parables so that ‘they may look but not see, and hear but not understand.’ This is the meaning of the parable. The seed is the word of God. Those on the path are the ones who have heard, but the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved. Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of trial. As for the seed that fell among thorns, they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along, they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit. But as for the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.”
Farmers of the time sowed in a different way than is done today. They would first sow seed and then plow it, which makes this parable make more sense to me in terms of seed being flung in places that were not likely to produce grain. It’s an interesting fact, but it doesn’t change the meaning of the parable in any way.
I’ve always been puzzled or troubled by Jesus’ statement that the disciples were granted knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom, but others had to figure out these parables on their own. However, he was referencing Isaiah 6:9-10 in which God said to his prophet that unless people heeded his message and repented they would not be healed or returned to God. Otherwise, they were simply hearing but not taking it into their hearts. That’s the point that Jesus was making, of course. People had to accept Jesus’ teachings as the word of God; they had to turn to God by persevering in changing their treatment of others with generous, good hearts.
As Rohr writes in The Good News According to Luke, “[A] parable confronts our world and subverts it….Rather it is God-as-invitation-and-challenge. A parable calls us to insight and decision.” This parable, particularly the verse about the devil taking away the word from their hearts, reminds me of his contemplation last Friday. He wrote, “The devil’s secret is camouflage. The devil’s job is to look very moral! It has to look like we are defending some great purpose or cause….Then you can do many evils without any guilt, without any shame or self-doubt, but actually with a sense of high-minded virtue.” It makes me think of Governor Brownback’s push last year to eliminate income taxes for limited liability partnerships and corporations and subchapter S corporations — 190,000 businesses in Kansas — and his partly successful attempt this year to raise sales taxes, which have a disproportionate impact on low-income wage earners. I can understand his economic argument that it will result in businesses locating in Kansas and creating jobs. However, there is no proof that this works; it is simply his belief. The Governor professes to be a devout Catholic, but it seems to me that his actions are promoting a greater gap in income equality.
I don’t mean this as a personal attack on Governor Brownback. I think he does illustrate the well-worn path taken by most of our culture in exalting wealth and the acquisition of wealth too often at the expense of those who are not as well educated, well parented, or otherwise good fortuned. It seems to me that the needs and pleas of the poor, particularly the working poor, have fallen on deaf ears. As Jesus said, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Those who understand God’s word “embrace it with a generous and good heart.” As Rohr wrote, Jesus confronted his world — and our world — and subverted the way things were and are. Jesus’ admonition to the rich and his championing equitable treatment of the poor have been on my mind for some time now. I am trying to discern what action he is calling me to. I don’t want to be one who hears but does not understand and thereby fail in my responsibility to help bring about the kingdom of God. I need to let his words today challenge me because I am variously each of the kinds of ground on which he is sowing his seed. I want to be the good soil at all times and so bear abundant fruit by persevering in faithful obedience. It is a daily challenge.