"When anyone hears the word of the kingdomand…"
Familiarity isn’t always helpful. It can be a disadvantage.
The details of the most routine activity can be missed simply because of our knowing what is happening and the disinterest that accompanies the repeated task.
It happens throughout the day. We go through our daily routine, and devoting our attention to other matters, can surprise ourselves in the lost passage of time and activity. Its predictability can prevent seeing old things new.
Today’s gospel reading about the sower is another good example.
The passage is well known. From very early we have learned the story that Jesus told his listeners. Fresh in the telling, they would have followed the story, listening to every detail, catching every nuance. The tone of voice, the gestures, the punctuation with the hand and the glint of the eye would have engaged them fully in the story.
And as Jesus often spoke in parables, as he did on this occasion, they would have found their thoughts racing, attempting to grasp Jesus’ lesson.
The lesson, they discovered, was not so much about them as it was about the Kingdom.
The lesson wasn’t even about the sower. And it wasn’t about soil.
It was about the Kingdom.
Not much of a story, admittedly. It wasn’t easily grasped. And what it says about the Kingdom isn’t a whole lot clearer for us, today. And our familiarity with the story doesn’t help. In fact, it's a disadvantage.
Jesus’ observations, drawn from the walk they had shared together that day possibly, were commonplace and in themselves not particularly difficult to understand. The pathway beneath their feet, certainly, would not receive the sower’s deposit of seed. The seed would lie, unprotected on the hard callused soil so that if the birds did not swoop down and devour it, the wind would certainly blow it away. Near the edge of the path thistles and weeds take root. They lay claim to the receptive soil, and fighting to keep their ground, choke out the freshly germinated seed. Further along the path the way is rocky, and while gravel will receive the seed, it cannot nourish and sustain the life of young plants. The soil only supported life, and Jesus observed some fields yielded crops of varying amounts.
And his listeners… they may have thought of themselves as soil supporting thistles, and may have envied those who they perceived to be rich loam. But that would have made the parable about them, and not about the Kingdom.
What does it tell me about the Kingdom?
Oh, I know that often I have been callous and disinterested. My carelessness has shown a hardened side that is reminiscent of that path upon which Jesus walked that day. Sometimes I feel walked on, worn down, and I am not at all receptive to a word about the Kingdom, or anything else for that matter. But not all the time.
At other times, I am prickly and you'd be wise to give me a wide birth. Impatient, short-tempered, the reception is cool and can be sometimes caustic. Whatever the excuse, or the reason, we know the pattern, and while not proud of the character flaw, admit recognition. But not all the time.
At other times, difficult times, times we'd described as being rocky, we know how hardship wears.
And then there is the good soil, the loam. And the harvest.
And the Kingdom is like that. Made up of the calloused, and the prickly; difficulties as well as joys make up the variegated pattern of our lives. We each bear a harvest exceeded by some, while exceeding still others. We are a harvest, accepted, cherished and redeemed: graciously valued in spite of the familiarity of it all.
Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine