Jesus began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’
When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that
“they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.”‘
And he said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’
For the ones on the path: Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.
For almost a year there has been much talk of people suffering from different degrees of mental and spiritual anguish. The issues surrounding isolation and sheltering have featured prominently in our media, as well as in the everyday lives of many. To begin addressing those issues we need to consider what is actually going on in our lives, we have to interpret the very different circumstances in which we find ourselves. This act of interpretation in order that we might arrive at a clearer level of understanding is very similar to the act of interpreting the parables of Jesus, and particularly those that are more familiar to us.
Today’s reading, the Parable of the Sower, is very familiar indeed. It is so familiar that many people could give a reasonably accurate rendition of it without reference to the original text. Those same people may even be able to give an account of Jesus’ own interpretation of the action within the parable. But, what about applying this familiar story to our own lives, both in and out of the conditions we are living through at the moment.
When we read any passage from scripture, it is good practice to read it slowly, in order that we might engage with all that is being said. It is good for us to set aside our tendency to speed-read and to place ourselves in the verses we are reading. The Parable of the Sower is a good passage to read in this way. It is easy to imagine the sower scattering his seed, just as it is easy for us to imagine where we have been sown.
Of course, we rarely see ourselves as having been thrown anywhere other than in the good soil. But … is that really the case? As with the mental and spiritual anguish that many are experiencing during times of enforced isolation, our minds can play tricks on us. The truth is that it is easy for us to deceive ourselves into believing that we are flourishing in the good soil when we are definitely not. We may hear the word and we may accept the word, but how is that hearing and accepting turning into the bearing of fruit?
In reality most of us are in a much less favourable place, whether it be on the path, among the rocks, or among the thorns. The moment we engage with the Parable of the Sower with an eyes-wide-open sense of realism we may find ourselves being transplanted into the good soil we crave. Our faith can be very shallow if we do not nurture and tend it carefully. The moment we neglect it, well then: Satan immediately comes and takes away the word.
As we journey on through these difficult times, let us set aside our very human tendency towards complacency, let us engage with scripture carefully and prayerfully, and let us pray that our faith may be watered and nurtured in a way that will see it grow and flourish and bring the joy of God’s word into the lives of others.