Another of MT's gathering together of Jesus' sayings starts here, this time mainly in parables. Most of us need to polish up our story-telling (not just illustrating) if we're to be effective preachers. There's no better model than Jesus. Beginning with the fact that he doesn't miss a thing that's going on round him, in the homes, on the land, in the market place, in the Temple precincts, anywhere & everywhere. It's all grist to the mill of telling stories & making them our own in the process.
In the late 60's I was a parish priest in Melbourne. A new stained glass window of The Sower, in an attractive Byzantine style, had been given for the parish church. After the eucharist in which the window had been dedicated, people went up close for a better look. I happened to walk back into the church for something, & there, examining The Sower were two 9 or 10 year old boys. I came by just in time to hear one say to the other, "Hasn't he got a sad face!" Quick as a flash, the other came back with, "So would you have if you'd lost as much of your crop as he has!" Out of the mouths of......! I had a strong feeling the Real Sower had a very smiley face right then, well pleased with the donor, the artist, & those two kids! By the way, the donor was an elderly lady who wanted to "sit near it & enjoy it before I die". Therein lies another story!
What if we were to commission four windows of The Sower, successively looking at his results on the pathway, the rocky ground, among thorns, & in the good ground? Could even a skilled artist show the nuances of the Sower's face in each case? What really matters is that we see & recognize our own face in the parable, & how well we're growing God's seed. What does the Real Sower's face show as he watches us growing or not?
The bit about the disciples knowing secrets of God's Rule not available to others is a hard one. The idea of Jesus deliberately making things hard for anyone to understand doesn't sit comfortably with the Jesus I know. The Jesus Seminar people put it: 'The Fellows doubt that Jesus gave his disciples a private interpretation so that outsiders would not know what he was talking about.' [The Acts of Jesus, Robert W.Funk & the Jesus Seminar, p.202. Harper, San Francisco, 1998] But before we go off hunting for gnostic or mystery-religion links, is there a simpler way of approaching the issue? That's always a good question for preachers. As path, rocks, thorns, & good soil all give different opportunities to or cause different problems for the seed, maybe the lesson here is for us to grasp opportunities for learning the things of God we're offered, even if they're not available to others, or spurned by them. And try imagining a knowing smile on Jesus' face when he poses riddles like this knowing we're going to need a Jacob-like wrestle with him if we're going to get anywhere. However we interpret this, let's act it out in a way that will make God's day!
The next bit's even harder. What does it mean that more will be given to those who already have, & what they don't have anyway being taken away from others. I have a hunch we often come up against examples of both, all with a human face, in the rough & tumble of every day life. (For instance, the other day a friend commenting on a candidate in a local council election said of one candidate, "They don't have a thing, but they'd always give you half of it!") Is there any 'fairness factor' built into creation? Experience says not. But Jesus is on about something different. Making Gospel out of what can happen if we build on opportunities given to us. Before they're taken away, by any means, from us. Making Gospel even out of things, (people?) taken away from us. Turning bad news into good as opportunity presents itself & we are grasped by it. If this scenario doesn't appeal, let's work at it till we find one that does work for us. But if we avoid hard passages, even what we don't have may be taken from us!
It would be foolish to try to improve on or embroider Jesus' explanation of how looking, seeing, & understanding (or not) work out. But it's 'legit' to explore his theme in imagery more in keeping with our own scene, if that's not a farming one. [A few years back I heard a preacher in the SSJE Monastery at Cambridge, Massachusetts, expound this passage very skilfuly & throw refreshing new light on it (for me, with no agricultural background at all) drawing on his own younger days growing up on a farm.] Run with what you are & what you've got!
God's not into 'bottom lines', only the top one: A one-hundredfold return on his investment of himself in us? And, look at the smile on his face! Enough to bring a smile to ours, too!