“Let anyone with ears listen!” Jesus in St Matthew 13-1-9, 18-23.
”They try to destroy us but as long as we come here and play music we are the first green grass which comes out of the ruins.” The unnamed cellist brother of conductor Dalia Stasevska on playing Bach in the ruined concert hall in Bucha, Ukraine.
Today’s Gospel is a parable – an earthly story with a heavenly meaning – and is just one of the seven parables found in the thirteenth chapter of St Matthew. Unlike the other parables, where Jesus likens them to illustrating something to do with the kingdom of heaven, this parable simply begins with a farmer going out to sow seed, an image which would have been very familiar to his rural audience.
Jesus speaks of seed being sown by broadcasting, a method where it is scattered by hand over a fairly large area. In the parable, it falls onto four types of ground: the path, where it’s eaten by the birds; rocky ground where the seed springs up quickly but has little root and soon withers; soil where thorns are so great it can’t grow; good ground, where the seed brings excellent yields. Jesus ends by telling those with ears to listen and this perplexes the disciples, who ask him why he is speaking in parables and so he eventually tells them more plainly what he means.
The sower himself is unnamed but the seed and what happens to it is described in more detail. The grain that falls on the hard path, Jesus suggests, represents the hard-hearted who hear his word but don’t respond to it or are snatched away by wrongdoing. The seed falling onto rocky ground suggests that some followers will appear to flourish at first but will wither when trouble comes their way. On thorny ground, the problems and anxieties of life choke any potential growth but those who hear and respond to the word may be very fruitful. They respond to the good news and resist wrongdoing whilst enduring hardships and overcoming worldly cares.
However, the generosity – or wastefulness – of the sower is key. Hard ground can be dug for easier growth, rocks and thorny weeds can be removed so that the seed stands the best chance of growing – but this sower has done none of that. He scatters the seed plentifully wherever he chooses – some of it might be wasted, but some might grow, too, even though it falls randomly. A good farmer would prepare his ground thoroughly before sowing the seed and the disciples would have known that. That’s probably why they don’t understand what he’s talking about but, in giving the meaning of this parable to the disciples but not the crowd, Jesus’ words about them listening as well as hearing are key. In speaking so cryptically, Jesus tells them to work out for themselves what he’s saying about God’s kingdom breaking into their lives in unexpected places and times. God’s love is generous – many may have the chance to hear and respond but others will fall away too. For those who receive the word and respond to it, there is hope – God or Jesus may be the sower of the seed but the disciples are asked to join him. They may be able to prepare the land by removing what threatens the word from flourishing – but the sower is key, whereas the seed will germinate where it falls.
Today, this may mean little in light of the prairie fields and large scale drills that are now used by farmers but this week has seen an extraordinary struggle between various broadcasters in the modern sense of the word. An individual unnamed broadcaster, the world famous broadcaster the BBC, the Sun newspaper and the media broadcasts and posts were engaged in a storm of allegations that sowed rumour and innuendo which ended with Huw Edwards being named and then admitted into hospital with severe mental health issues. As seed needs to be sown in the right places for the best growth, so does truth – clearly a casualty in this week’s events as they are assessed.
However, from the devastation may spring up new realisations of what is heard and said, just as the green shoots of recovery were shown in that concert hall in Ukraine. Here in Melangell’s valley, the first shoots of new life are pushing up on the hillside following the harvesting of its trees and the devastation of the ground. What is being sown in our hearts or lives and where might the first shoots of new life be breaking through as we listen to what our hearts, as well as our ears, are telling us?
With my prayers; pob bendith