Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he taught 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 along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, 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. And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.” And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown; when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which is sown in them. And these in like manner are the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
Mark 4, 1-20
Jesus does not speak to us in abstractions; he does not instruct us; and, he does not ask us to follow an ideology. Jesus invites us to enter into a relationship with him and contemplate the world with his eyes, while offering his life to us as an example and giving us his Word. Jesus’ parables - handed down to us by the evangelists-, are the epitome of his Word and the example of his style, the “style of God” respectful our freedom. The profound message of those familiar and apparently simple narratives remains elusive at first sight because Jesus intentionally hides it from us. In short, Jesus’ parables become a place of encounter with his Word - that is, with himself - for those who are willing to accept them with generosity of spirit. This is not so much a literary exercise or simply an opportunity for studying, but above all a way to reflect on God’s measure of things and of ourselves.
Which is the first, fundamental step that leads to that encounter? As with all authentic encounters, that first step is the listening. What kind of listening is required though? “Listen Israel”, Shema’ Jisra’el, we hear repeatedly in Sacred Scripture. Isaiah reminds us that it is possible to listen without understanding and to hear without knowing how to use our capacity to hear. What then is asked of us from this listeningWhat is therefore entailed in the act of listening? Paying attention to how we set our ears to the world around us in which the Word constantly operates.
We are reminded of this by the parable of the sower, without which even the other parables cannot be understood. “Listen”, Jesus exhorts before beginning the story of the sower, and concludes “he who has ears, let him hear”, recalling Isaiah in his own way.
That is why, here and now, I would like to focus on Jesus speaking to me. I imagine I am sitting on the ground, among the crowds, by the calm and enchanting sea of Tiberias. I watch Jesus as he steps into a boat and remains sitting there. He begins to speak and I follow his story. At first I seem to grasp the meaning of the story, but shortly afterwards I realise that its deeper meaning escapes me. Like the disciples, I ask Jesus to explain it to me. Unable to do so, like they did, in person, I ask him in recollection, lending my ear to the Word with greater care, with “mind, soul and heart”.
The figure of the sower who sows with such generous abundance and in every possible direction is revealed to me, at that moment, as the One who is constantly, eternally at work.
The golden yellow rays of the sun, which in Van Gogh’s painting bursts forth so powerfully, suggests that immanent creative act. The indefatigably scattered seed becomes potency of life. And the soil, that soil destined to receive the seed of life is me, as a person, but it is also us, as a community, whether ecclesial, religious, or civil; we are all recipients/without discrimination.
The four types of soil emerge as different ways of receiving the Word and recognising its presence in everything around us.
There are times when we listen with our hearts that have become hardened by rigid convictions and preconceptions, and so we do not understand anything. At other times, we listen without desiring, from the depths of our soul, to do so and therefore we understand only superficially. There are other times besides when we listen without taking into consideration what influences us as we listen and then it happens that instead of understanding what is said, we misrepresent the words and deceive ourselves.
Instead, when we listen “with heart, soul, and mind” we fully understand “things hidden since the foundation of the world” and bear fruit in abundance, like the fertile soil. We make a quantum leap. We become ourselves seeds of life.
The parable thus opens our eyes to the stark reality of our resistance, our distractions and our fragility when we listen, but at the same time, as is God’s style, it does not discourage us.
Despite the lack of response, the sower will in fact continue to sow in all directions. The scarcity of the fruits of the less fertile soil will be remedied by the amazing abundance of the fruits of the good soil.
Not without our cooperation, though. And here is the serious challenge. Every day, it is up to us to consider: what soil are we making available to the Word and to others? Do we listen to what does or does not grow, and why so, in our own soil and in that of our neighbors? Do we have the strength and courage to set aside our prejudices and preconceptions? This is a strong and firm call to listen and discern addressed to everyone in the Church and in the world; it asks from us today - as in the past-, a practical response, in the form of a life commitment.
by Francesca Bugliani Knox