Monday, January 27, 2014

The Parable of the Sower

Jesus told a story about a farmer. If we forget for a moment that Jesus is a spiritual teacher and look at the story just as a story it might seem rather unremarkable. A farmer is doing a chore. He’s doing his job. Jesus observes that some seeds fall in places that they do not grow well for various reasons. On hard-packed ground, on weedy ground, on rocky ground. He points out however that the seeds that fall on the good soil produce a crop that makes up for all the wasted seed. This is a common sense story.

The disciples ask Jesus what it means. They feel like there must be more to the story than a day in the life of a farmer. I wonder if they had not asked, would Jesus have explained the story? He doesn’t bother explaining most of his parables. In this case he points out that his disciples are a special group of people who are being given special insight into the Kingdom. But why? Why can’t Jesus just explain it to everyone? He has a good crowd going. If it is simple enough for the disciples, it is simple enough for everyone.

There is an important principle I would like to here insert. God enlightens us how and when He wants to. I am an not saying that we have no responsibility in seeking and learning and growing, but if we find it impossible to learn something, we can be sure God does not want us to learn it. He has his reasons, and we can trust that they are good ones. Perhaps we are not ready yet. Perhaps we have not finished the last lesson he had for us and cannot advance without mastering it. Perhaps it will be better learned under new and unforeseen circumstances. Maybe we will know why we had to wait or maybe we won’t. That is in God’s hands as well.

When Jesus told the disciples that they would be given understanding, when exactly did that understanding come. Jesus goes on to explain some of the parable, but not the whole thing. Why was the farmer so extravagant with his seed? Why did the seed produce ten times the normal amount? Jesus explains the seed and the soils but neither the sower nor the harvest. Also, this explanation only refers to this one parable. Jesus said they would understand the Kingdom. For the disciples this understanding would come much later (if ever).

But isn’t that just like God? He is always giving us glimpses. Whether we know it or not, we’ve only just had a peek at all there is. Just when we think we’ve begun to master something about God He shows us that we’ve only just learned the alphabet. When we think we’ve come to the end of our ability to know him a new world of understanding opens to us.

Then there’s this difficulty of the reference to Isaiah. Jesus says the people will be seeing but not understanding and listening but not hearing-- or something like that. Is God hiding from people? I guess another way to read it is to assume Jesus is referring to the fulfillment of prophecy. In other words, some people don’t understand what I say and this is expected. It was foretold by Isaiah himself. Still, it seems that Jesus is avoiding the “plain truth” by talking in riddles. Even in answer to the disciples he doesn’t come out and just say what he is getting at.

Sometimes when I wonder why Jesus or God didn’t do something I try to imagine what would happen if he actually did do what I expected. In this case it might have gone like this...

“Jesus, what does that parable mean?”

Sigh* Ok, fine, I’ll just spell it out for you. The Word of God is such a potent and powerful thing that those who are sharing it don’t need to hold anything back. Any kind of person can hear the word. Now what you can’t control is how they respond. There will be all kinds of responses. Much of the preaching of the word will fall on deaf ears or uncommitted ears or fickle ears. It isn’t because the Word is weak. It is because those who heard it were not able to allow it to take root and bear fruit. Those who do accept God’s word and have the opportunity to let it take root in their lives, they will outweigh the good of all the others. You see, it is a principle of God’s nature that quantity does not necessarily reflect value, and things seen are not always equivalent to things that are and will be. You may not know how people will respond when you share the word, but God wants you to share it anyway because he is able to produce a yield that will overcome any amount of apparent waste. In fact much of what I’m saying to you right now will not sink in and take root in your heart because you are not ready to hear it yet. So even the truth that parables are reflective of deeper truths that sometimes must be left to speak for themselves is something that you will not be able to accept at the moment, and even when you do start to discover the truth of it you will only just be seeing a blurry shadow of the high definition reality of an infinite God with unspeakable depth.

“Oh. So like. Farmers know, birds and thorns are Yeah, we think we understand.”

Laughing* Do you remember the story as I told it?

“Yes. Totally. More or less.”

Ok, that’s enough for now. Make sure someone writes it down.