There is the old saying; ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ and although I do not think it would be wholly accurate in regard to our situation here, I do wonder how many of us, when we hear the words ‘And Jesus said “Imagine a sower going out to sow” think, ‘Oh yes, I know this one’ and perhaps tune out just a little and reconnect as the deacon says ‘The Gospel of the Lord’.
This is not meant to be a criticism just an observation. Sometimes, I have to consciously tune in to listen to that oh so familiar parable as it is being proclaimed by another otherwise I may lose the grace of hearing it read in a new or different way. The different emphasis or tone of voice or expression that the proclaimer is using. It is in these very emphases that God may be speaking to me.
The reason we have a cycle of three years readings is not because the Church cannot be bothered to choose more but it is a recognition that, as I move and grow and develop as a person – so my understanding and encounter with the readings will change, I will draw new insights.
If ‘You cannot step into the same river twice’ is true at the deepest level because the water is ever moving, ever changing. So in the same way, I can never hear the same reading twice, because the person reading it may be different but the person hearing it, me, will be too. I will be bringing a different experience, outlook and mood.
Each time I hear a scripture spoken, the Lord is speaking to me. However, today, with this reading, what is the Lord wanting to tell me ? I will encounter the reading differently than the person next to me. I may be challenged, I may be encouraged, I may be changed – the scripture is my personal encounter.
This brings me to a point with which I always struggle. The explanation of the parables. A parable is an image which the Lord uses to draw us deeper into the mystery of the Kingdom, of God Himself and of love. Jesus uses them as tools of challenge. He sets it before us and asks us to let the image speak to us personally, to let it interact with our understanding and mind. This seems to be at odds, in my mind, with the idea that the Lord would give the image, invite us to allow it to speak to us and then explain it. Parables are like butterflies – beautiful, evasive, challenging. Try and photograph a butterfly and the dratted thing would often fly off, just beyond your reach. You will catch a flash of colour which will inspire and lead you on. You will never stop trying to capture the sight of that beauty; its very elusive quality is the thing that keeps you trying. This is the same with the parable, it draws you on, you never fully capture or understand its whole meaning, it always eludes your grasp.
A parable, if explained, becomes rather like a butterfly, pinned to a board. Yes, you can see its colour and beauty, it lies there clear for you to admire but it no longer has power to inspire or challenge. It can no longer elude your grasp, it can no longer move at all, it is lifeless. The butterfly flying free continues to inspire; the parable, open-ended, enables you to continually seek to understand and explore, more deeply, the mystery of God.
So having said all that, it would be rather pointless for me to explain the parable but I do want to say something to illustrate my point about explanations. Jesus’ explanation today – there are four types of people – if I said ‘Oh right, that’s what the parable means’ then I would lose the fact that it is saying something quite different to me.
‘Mark, there may or may not be four types of people’s response to the Word of God but it is absolutely certain that you respond to the Word of God in four different ways.’
I can sometimes be falsely enthusiastic or weighed down by anxiety or uncaring and disinterested but then again I can sometimes be open and receptive. I am all 4, I change from situation to situation, what does not change is the Word of God, the seed. This remains constant, He remains so.
However I may react , and this is perhaps a sometimes overlooked detail of the reading, God continues to rain down in a glorious act of ‘wasteful generosity.’ The seed thrown everywhere because what God most wants, is for us to have life and have it to the full.