July 16, 2017
Jesus knew that people prefer to listen to stories than to abstract ideas. This is why most of the time He taught his followers by stories called parable. What is a parable? The dictionary defines a parable in these words: “A short, simple story, usually of an occurrence of a familiar kind, from which a moral or religious lesson may be drawn.” Today’s gospel, the parable of the sower, is a very typical parable. In this story God is the sower as He is proclaiming the “good news” of God’s kingdom through Jesus, through the Bible, or through other people who communicate to us God’s message. The seed is God’s word and it is sown whenever God’s word is proclaimed to an audience. The soil is the human soul into which God’s word is sown. The quality of the soil may differ, and, accordingly, also the yield of the crop is different in the different kinds of soil.
In gospel times, farmers usually sowed their seeds on top of the soil and then plowed them under in one operation. It was not uncommon for some of these seeds to blow into footpaths that crisscrossed field or to blow into rows of thorn bushes or briers that sometimes enclosed fields to discourage animals from entering them. Some seeds also fell on the thin skin of soil that hid large rocks just below the surface. Jesus utilized this familiar situation in his parable of the sower. Let’s see how that parable applies to life. Consider four brief, true stories.
The first story recalls the seed that fell on the footpath. It concerns Sir Kenneth Clark, the British television celebrity who produced the TV miniseries Civilization. In his autobiography Clark describes a religious experience he had in a church at one time in his life. It was so intense that he considered making some drastic changes in the way he was living. After the experience passed, however, Clark decided against making the changes. Looking back on his decision, he says: “I think I was right: I was too deeply imbedded in the world to change course. But that I had felt the finger of God, I am quite sure.” Clark’s response might be compared to the seed that fell on the footpath. It stands for those who receive God’s word but later lose it because Satan steals it away from them before it can take root.
Our second story recalls the seed that fell on rocky soil. It concerns two brothers, Clarence and Robert, who had committed their lives to Jesus in their youth. Clarence grew up and became a civil rights activist. Robert grew up and became a lawyer. One day Clarence asked Robert for legal help in a civil rights matter. Robert refused, saying that it could hurt his political future. Clarence was stunned. He confronted Robert about his commitment to Jesus. Robert responded, saying, “I do follow Jesus, but not onto the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.” Clarence looked at his brother and said, “Robert, you’re not a follower of Jesus; you’re only one of his fans.” Robert’s situation might be compared to the seed that fell on rocky ground. It stands for those who receive the message with joy but abandon it in time of temptation.
Our third story recalls the seed that fell among briers. It concerns a high school girl in Philadelphia. One night she wrote the following comments in a homework assignment: “I got a strange feeling in class today when we were discussing the parable about the farmer who planted seed. You see, at the end of last year, I had a great talk with my counselor. She helped me see a lot of things clearly, and I made several resolutions. Then yesterday it hit me. I hadn’t kept a single one of those resolutions. I had gotten so involved in school again that I forgot all about them.” The girl’s comments might be compared to the seed that fell among briers. She received her counselor’s words with joy but forgot about them once the rat race of life got started again.
Finally, our fourth story recalls the seed that fell on good soil. It concerns the author John R. Stott. In his book Basic Christianity he describes an incident that happened in his youth. One night he knelt down and committed his life to Jesus. The next day he wrote in his journal: “Yesterday really was an eventful day!... Behold, Jesus stands at the door and knocks. I have heard Him and now He has come into my house. He has cleansed it and now rules in it.” Later on, Stott wrote these words: “I really have felt an immense and new joy…. It is the joy of being at peace with the world and of being in touch with God… I never really knew Him before.” John’s commitment might be compared to the seed that fell on good soil. In stands for those who hear God’s message and take it to heart.
The parable of the sower belongs to that group of parables in the gospel that are sometimes called mirror parables. These parables act as a mirror into which we can look and see ourselves. In other words, the parable of the sower invites us to ask ourselves that seed we are like. Or, to put it in another way, which person in the four stories we just heard are we most like?
Are we like the seed that fell on the footpath? That is, are we like Sir Kenneth Clark, who was inspired to change his life but then decided against it because it would upset everything?
Or are we like the seed that fell on rocky soil? That is, are we like Robert, who committed his life to Jesus in his youth but reneged on that commitment when temptation came?
Or are we like the seed that fell among briers? That is, are we like the high school girl who made all those resolutions and then promptly forgot about them?
Or are we like the seed that fell on good soil? That is, are we like John Stott, who committed his life to Jesus and then rearranged his life to follow through on that commitment?
This is the question Jesus asked the people of His time. It’s also the question He asks each one of us in our time. And once we answer that question, Jesus expects us to do something about it.
Of course, one’s life is never such a clear cut case like our four stories have indicated. At one time we decline toward one of the three wrong models, at another time we may lean toward one of the others. None of us is a saint who stays faithful to his/her original commitment always and never turns away from it. We are all sinners who make frequent compromises in our lives and leave the straight line. That is why we received the sacrament of reconciliation that we repent for, and confess our faults and return to the ideal fourth model. The parable wants to characterize the general direction of our life in which it is progressing.
Let us learn from the parable of the sower by becoming a good soil, one which receives God’s words joyfully and gratefully and will yield rich harvest.
Rev. Julius Leloczky, O.Cist
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