“Listen carefully my child to the master's instruction and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”These words were written by St. Benedict 1500 years ago to guide the monks of his monastery. Since then, his rule has been adopted and used by countless monks and nuns and other Christians to help guide their Christian lives. His feast day, the day we remember him, is tomorrow. I have always been struck by the opening sentence of his prologue: “Listen carefully my child to the master's instruction and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” Listen and attend to them with the ear of your heart… In the rush of our days, we need to stop and listen, really listen, to the words that will guide our lives, the masters instructions.
And what is Jesus first word to the crowd that comes to hear him speak, “Listen.” And then he tells them a parable. Now remember that a parable is not like an Aesop Fable with a moral at the end, it is not like the stories we so often hear. Parables are rooted in images of everyday life and yet they are metaphors, and as the parable unfolds the metaphors are shattered, things are not as they seem, and they challenge our vision of reality.
The parables are open ended, with multiple meanings and layers to those stories, they are not so simple. That is why the disciples often asked Jesus to explain his parables. If Jesus had wanted to, he could have given a simple story or command like “love one another” as he did elsewhere. But to the crowd and his disciple he often spoke in parable. A parable is
“where the ordinary has gone askew and thereby shocks us into realizing that the parable leads us into another way of thinking about life.” (John R. Donahue)So Jesus tells a parable to the crowd (and us) about a sower sowing seed on the ground.
· Some falls on the path, birds eat
· Some on rocky ground, no root & withered away
· Some fall on ground that is chocked by thorns
· But some fall on good soil and produce grain, 100 fold, 60 and 30.
“Let anyone who has ears listen,” says Jesus. That’s the 9th verse, what we don’t have in today’s reading is the disciples flummoxed by what Jesus said, in the missing verses. When asked, he gives them an interpretation. The seed is the word of the Kingdom of God:
· Some falls on the path, and Satan snatches it away
· Some on rocky ground, hear the word joyfully, but when trouble comes, they fall away
· Some fall on ground that is chocked by cares of the world, wealth, faith yields nothing
· But some fall on good soil and produce fruit
So what is the meaning of the parable for us? Are we the sower, the seed, the ground? Which one? As you sit and listen with your heart to that parable, let me end with two stories that play on the meaning of this parable.
A sower went forth to sow. Some of his seeds fell upon stony places. Centuries passed; millennia. And the seeds remained. And the stones crumbled and became good soil, and the seeds brought forth fruit.
"Wait a minute," said one listener. "You can't play fast and loose that way with the natural facts. The seeds would die long before the soil could receive them."
"Why would they die?"
"Because they can't hold out in stony places, for thousands of years."
"But, my dear, what kind of seeds do you think we're talking about?"
The Parable of the Sower by Stephen Mitchell *Portraits and Parables.* © 1990
In this Indian parable, a simple seed learns though struggle and discovery, what it is to grow in good soil. Stephen Mitchell’s poem reminds us that even on stony ground, good soil can come, eventually. Listen says Benedict. Listen says Jesus. And the Spirit of God inside of us will help us find meaning in parable because the Word of God is planted within our hearts. Amen.
Once upon a time there was a little seed. Because it was only a seed, nobody seemed to notice or care. The seed didn't consider himself very important, either. One day, the wind picked up the seed and threw the seed mercilessly into an open field. The sweltering sun beat down on the little seed; rain pounded the helpless seed into the ground; snow and ice trapped the shivering seed for long periods of time. The little seed was broken, confused and lonely. Time went by. Then, one day, a traveler came up and sat beside the seed. "Thank you, O God, for this place," the seed heard the traveler say.
"Excuse me." The seed spoke up. "What are you talking about?" People had stopped by his little plot of earth before, but no one had ever spoken like this. The seed thought the traveler was making fun of him.
The traveler was startled. "Who's speaking to me?"
"Me. The seed." "The seed? You're no seed. You're a tree - a goliath of an oak!"
"Really?" asked the seed. "Yes! Why else do you think people come here?"
"Why?" "To rest under your shade. Don't you realize how you have grown?"
It took a moment for the seed to realize what the traveler was saying. The seed smiled for the first time in his life. The years of restlessness and struggle, of brokenness and loneliness, finally made sense to him. "I am worth something," rejoiced the one-time little seed, now a great oak. [Adapted from a story by Novoneel Chakaborty.]