UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Parable of the Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Parable of the Sower

It is commonly understood that the Parable of the Sower is in two parts: the story part and the interpretation part. However, last week you heard me say this:

In the second part of the parable, the part where Jesus reveals to his apostles the interpretation of the parable, assigning specific symbolic values to each kind of seed, we get a unique insight into what Jesus thinks His stories mean, of who is capable of apprehending that meaning, and who isn't. From these two parts a third dialectic (oppositional) synthesis emerges, i.e., the meaning of telling stories with hidden meanings; from this third meaning we are given a deep and complex insight into the power of verbal communication to express eternal truth.


Thus, this week we are concerned at least as much with the whole idea and significance of "Parable" as we are with this particular parable. It's not hard to see that Jesus was, too.

First the scripture readings:

Mark 4:9-20

9And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
10And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
11And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
12That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
13And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?
14The sower soweth the word.
15And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.
16And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;
17And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.
18And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,
19And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
20And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.



Mathew 13:9-22

9Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
10And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
11He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
12For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
13Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
14And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
15For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
16But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
17For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
18Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
19When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
20But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
22He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
23But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.


Luke 8:8-15

And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience..



You may remember that we heard from the Gospel of Thomas last week. It is interesting that the interpretation portion of the event is missing. I can just hear Thomas saying, “What is all this interpretation baloney? Does He think we’re dense or something?” Always hasty, are we Thomas?

As usual, I begin with comments from Wikipedia:

“Though Thomas doesn't explain the parable at all, the synoptics state that the disciples failed to understand, and questioned Jesus why he was teaching by parables, but the synoptics state that Jesus waited until much later, until the crowds had left, before explaining the parables, stating to his disciples:

“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those on the outside, everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding.

“The synoptics go on to state that Jesus quoted the Book of Isaiah, stating that by hearing you shall hear but not understand, by seeing you shall see and not perceive, and that the people were hard of hearing, with closed eyes (Isaiah 6:9-10). After this, the synoptics provide an explanation of the parable:

   * The sower sows the word
   * The seeds falling on the road represent those who hear the word but dismiss it straight away - the synoptics state that the wicked one (Matthew's wording)/Satan (Mark's wording) is what takes the word away
.
  
* The seeds falling on the rocks represent those who hear the word, but only accept it shallowly - the synoptics state that these sorts of people reject the word as soon as it causes them affliction or persecution
  
* The seeds falling on thorns represent those who hear the word, and take it to heart, but allow worldly concerns, such as money, to choke it.
  
* The seeds falling on good soil represents those who hear the word, and truly understand it, causing it to bear fruit.

“Jesus says he is teaching in parables because he does not want everyone to understand him, only those who are his followers. Those outside the group are not meant to understand them. Thus one must already be committed to following Jesus to fully understand his message and that without that commitment one will never fully understand him or be helped by his message. If one does not correctly understand the parables, this is a sign that one is not a true disciple of Jesus. He teaches in this way so that their sins will then not be forgiven. He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, who also preached to Israel knowing that his message would go unheeded and not understood so that the Israelites' sins would not be forgiven and they would be punished by God for them. Some debate whether this was Jesus' original meaning or whether Mark added this interpretation himself. The full explanation of the meaning of the parable stresses that there will be difficulty in Jesus' message taking hold, perhaps an attempt by Mark to bolster his readers faith, perhaps in the face of a persecution. This parable seems to be essential for understanding all the rest of Jesus' parables, as it makes clear what is necessary to understand Jesus is a prior faith in him, and that Jesus will not enlighten those who refuse to believe, he will only confuse them."




Here we come to the first issue I want to discuss: the whole problem of the necessity of speaking in parables to the multitudes, and Jesus' reticence to speak plainly to the uninitiated. The notion that Jesus speaks in parables to "confuse" the multitude seems a bit shallow and cold. I look for a kinder, even more pragmatic, interpretation.

The version of the story in Mathew is, for me, the most complete in its power to clarify Jesus motivation in this regard, although I find the logical sequential progression to be slightly reversed:



Mathew 13:19

When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.



Here, Jesus is recapitulating one of the main themes of the parable: that seeds ungerminated in the heart, easily fall prey to the tempter. I think Jesus is saying that: the plain truth spoken in the ear of those not ready to receive it, makes them more vulnerable to Satan's power to twist and corrupt, than when there is just a vague understanding glimmering on the edge of their consciousness. When there is a grain of truth in what we hear, the lies of Satan, snaking around the sense of it, can misdirect it more easily than if we give him nothing to work with. Jesus is telling us to take care what we think, because Satan's towering intellect can insinuate his way into our heads in the most subtle and damning ways. Furthermore, He is telling us that He Himself is being careful not to open His congregation's mind to the whispering seductions of Satan's minions, by feeding it with dimly perceived half truths, which demons can falsify and grotesquely vulgarize. Indeed, it is clear that Jesus does not have a very high opinion of the common man's ability to get what He is saying, and is therefore, not superior but, rather, quite protective, shielding the folk from too much truth, too soon.



Mathew 13:15

For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.




Jesus wants to keep the door open to spiritual insight for all men, but He doesn't have very much faith in their minds to comprehend the higher truths. He puts His money on the understanding of the HEART as the most reliable organ of spiritual perception, and He openly pledges His healing power to the people if they are willing and able to meet Him face to face on that level. O, how much sin and suffering are perpetrated in the name of some dogmatic detail, when the language of the heart so totally eradicates such misunderstanding!
 

Back to Wikipedia:
“The parable has sometimes been taken to mean that there are (at least) three 'levels' of divine progress and salvation.
Interpretations among Latter Day Saints
  According to the various interpretations by members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or "LDS Church"), the word generally refers to the whole of the Canonical Gospels, and that not everyone accepts the gospel with the same degree of commitment:
   The parable taught clearly where the responsibility lay with regard to the kingdom of God and the reception of the gospel. It was not with the sower and it was not in the seed - it was in the 'soil,' the heart of man. - E. Keith Howick, The Parables of Jesus The Messiah (pg. 30). . .
   

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin in the October 2004 General Conference interpreted the parable of the sower as teaching the doctrine of patience—enduring to the end—and reinterpreted the meaning of each of the fates of the seeds. Wirthlin considered that each of the three negative fates referred to one of three obstacles to endurance:
  

* the cares of the world, being pride. Wirthlin purported that one should never allow intellect to take priority or precedence over one's spirit. He states that "our intellect can feed our spirit and our spirit can feed our intellect...[but] we must be careful not to set aside our faith in the process, because faith actually enhances our ability to learn."
  
* the deceitfulness of riches, being the fixation on wealth. Wirthlin argued that wealth was a means to an end, but materialism should not be allowed to take precedence over spiritual things.
  
* the lusts of other [things], being pornography. Wirthlin argued that, like quicksand, pornography can easily trap people, and it is better to never step into it than to need to seek help once one has fallen.”



I’ll be honest, I’ve known quite a few Mormons, and I have generally found them to be majorly, on many levels, full of crap; but I stood up and cheered when I read these two things. This:

“The parable has sometimes been taken to mean that there are (at least) three 'levels' of divine progress and salvation. . . the word generally refers to the whole of the Canonical Gospels, and that not everyone accepts the gospel with the same degree of commitment.”


and this:
"our intellect can feed our spirit and our spirit can feed our intellect...[but] we must be careful not to set aside our faith in the process, because faith actually enhances our ability to learn."



These two comments taken together provide penetrating keys to the power and mystery of parables.

First, the idea of graduated levels of meaning is crucial to the PURPOSE of parable. Any story resonates with the life that brought it into being, and, as a creation of this universe, reflects the hierarchical structure of this universe. When Shakespeare says that art should hold a mirror up to nature, this is what he means: that the created art object ought, ultimately, to direct the attention of the artifact’s observer BACK from its mundane referent, on to a contemplation of the source of all creation. And remember that the pathway back to this source may be divided into steps, episodes, levels on a continuum, each significant, each only partial, but each containing the seed of the whole within its limited, articulated constraints.

There is a concept in music aesthetics called “The Mozartean Ideal.” I don’t know how indebted this idea is to Mozart, but it is well understood that Mozart, despite his aspirations to be accepted at the Imperial Court, was not a snob: he wrote music intended for the common man to enjoy; and yet, embedded in the internal workings of the music, he always installed something weightier and more profound that was only discernible by the connoisseur. Thus, there was something for everybody.

Now this idea of “something for everybody”, though easily bordering on the vulgar can be a magical ticket to heavenly terrains. The fact is that the connoisseur may consciously appreciate the nuggets hidden for him, in the music, but that does not mean its effect is TOTALLY lost on the layman.

Remember C.S. Lewis description of man’s inner architecture from last week:
Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy.


A work of art is structured kind of like this—with its heart at the center and its trivial excrescences on the outside. Thus, the resonance of the heart of a piece of music may radiate outward from its center and affect the people in the audience in their hearts as well, even if they are not consciously aware of it. THIS IS HOW FAITH CAN BE TRAIN US, AND HELP US LEARN. Every time a subtle impression is made on the heart, the heart radiates its wisdom outward, and even the dumbest of us, intellectually, cannot escape these illuminating rays. Indeed, for even the most verbally brilliant of us, the true meaning of parable is transmitted in the language of spirit; the fact that spirit transcends the mind does not mean that it BYPASSES the mind—it brings the mind along with it, articulating its wonder in whatever pidgin English it may. The symbols of the parable dissolve in the fixed light of Heaven, but wisps of thought persist in floating like thin clouds around the lofty peaks of Olympus.

Let us return now to the classic SERMONS OF MARTIN LUTHER, VOL. II.
“But what does it mean when he says: "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God", etc.? What are the mysteries? Shall one not know them, why then are they preached? A "mystery" is a hidden secret, that is not known: and the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" are the things in the kingdom of God, as for example Christ with all his grace, which he manifests to us, as Paul describes him; for he who knows Christ aright understands what God's kingdom is, and what is in it. And it is called a mystery because it is spiritual and secret, and indeed it remains so, where the spirit does not reveal it. For although there are many who see and hear it, yet they do not understand it. just as there are many who preach and hear Christ, how he offered himself for us; but all that is only upon their tongue and not in their heart; for they themselves do not believe it, they do not experience it, as Paul in 1 Cor. 2:14 says: "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God!" Therefore Christ says here: "Unto you it is given", the Spirit gives it to you that you not only hear and see it, but acknowledge and believe it with your heart. Therefore it is now no longer a mystery to you.

..
. But Mark says (4:33), Christ spake therefore to the people with parables, that they might understand, each according to his ability. How does that agree with what Matthew says, 13:13-14: He spake therefore unto them in parables, because they did not understand? It must surely be that Mark wishes to say that parables serve to the end that they may get a hold of coarse, rough people, although they do not indeed understand them, yet later, they may be taught and then they know: for parables are naturally pleasing to the common people, and they easily remember them since they are taken from common every day affairs, in the midst of which the people live. But Matthew means to say that these parables are of the nature that no one can understand them, they may grasp and hear them as often as they will, unless the Spirit makes them known and reveals them. Not that they should preach that we shall not understand them; but it naturally follows that wherever the Spirit does not reveal them, no one understands them. However, Christ took these words from Is. 6:9-10, where the high meaning of the divine foreknowledge is referred to, that God conceals and reveals to whom he will and whom he had in mind from eternity.”



In my sermon of May 15, I said this:



 ". . .  just because we believe something, indeed, just because we KNOW something, doesn't mean that everybody we meet is prepared to hear what we have to say."






Clearly Martin Luther agrees with me although one wonders if it is for the same reasons. Never mind, that. Maybe we ought to go around speaking in parables. As an aspie I have sort of already been doing that—and believe me it doesn’t work that well. Ah me.

In conclusion I have this wonderful quote from the Russian priest Fra V. Patapov:

"In the Mystery of the Eucharist, the priest, elevating the bread and wine, says to God: "Thine own of Thine we offer unto Thee!", that is, "That which is Thine, we offer unto Thee!" So also the Parable of the Sower touches "the mysteries of the Kingdom of God." In order to understand this mystery, there must be on the part of those listening a direction of the will corresponding to it and a disposition of the heart fitting for its acceptance. . .
It is not some kind of information about some kind of strange events alien to us which were recorded by the Apostles that the human soul will learn in the Gospel; but in the word of God the human soul will get to know itself, its kinship and its involvement with God. In the Gospel the human soul will recognize the voice of its Creator, of its Heavenly Father, which resounds in the heart.



"


Let us pray: Jesus thank you for the divine understanding which accepts us all and makes a place for all in the vast halls of Heaven where each place high or low basks in the radiance of your love ever and always the same. Amen.

Glennallen, AK
June 12, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Parable of the Parable of the Sower I

The Parable of the Sower

 I

The so-called “Parable of the Sower” is actually a parable accompanied by a commentary by Jesus on the parable, both under one contextual umbrella. Thus, the scripture divides itself into two parts:

The first part of the parable, the story part, shows a farmer, at planting season, showering his field with seeds which fall to earth in a variety of places; some of those places yield fruit and some don’t. The different kinds of ground in the parable all symbolize different kinds of people, and the story as a whole amounts to a very clear metaphor for how spiritual truth is spoken and received out in the world.

In the second part of the parable, the part where Jesus reveals to his apostles the interpretation of the parable, assigning specific symbolic values to each kind of seed, we get a unique insight into what Jesus thinks His stories mean, of who is capable of apprehending that meaning, and who isn't. From these two parts a third dialectic (oppositional) synthesis emerges, i.e., the meaning of telling stories with hidden meanings; from this third meaning we are given a deep and complex insight into the power of verbal communication to express eternal truth.

This scripture as a whole touches on two issues we have discussed repeatedly in the course of the past month's sermons: that of evangelism, and that of the power of words to transmit divine truth into the mundane dimension. The more I examined this scripture, the larger the issues loomed. These are big topics, and there is enough material here for two sermons—therefore, I have decided to break this message up into two parts, first dealing with the parable, itself , and then Jesus’ comments on His comments next week.



As you will have noticed, I like to give as many versions of Jesus' sayings as possible, and today I will share not only the three synoptic gospel versions, but the version according Thomas, as well. But before I give the biblical readings of the parable, I would like to ask you to hear the story with a little different slant in mind. I’m sure we all know the details of the narrative fairly well, and are used to interpreting the “seeds” as “spiritual truths,” which, as per Jesus’ instructions, we certainly should. This time, however, as I read about the rocky, weedy, birdy ground, I want you to think of ACTIONS as well as thought forms. One of the problems I want to ponder today is the relationship of thought to deed, and the larger issue of grace vs. good works.

Now the parable:


Mark 4:3-8

“3Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:
4And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.
5And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:
6But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
7And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.
8And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.”




Matthew 13:3-8 

“3And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.”


LUKE 8:4-8:
“And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.”

DORESSE Gospel of Thomas:
[9].
"Jesus says: ‘See, the sower went out. He filled his hand and scattered the seed. Some fell on the path: birds came and gathered them. Others fell on rocky ground: they found no means of taking root in the soil and did not send up ears of corn. Others fell among thorns; these stifled the grain, and the worm ate the seed. Others fell on good soil, and this portion produced an excellent crop: it gave as much as sixty-fold, and even a hundred and twenty-fold!’"




The first comment I offer is taken, as usual, from Wikipedia:
“Comparisons Between Gospel of Thomas and Synoptic Gospels:
Thomas, as usual, provides no narrative context whatsoever, nor any explanation, but the synoptics frame this parable as one of a group that were told by Jesus while he was standing on a boat in a lake. The parable tells of seeds that were erratically scattered, some falling on the road and consequently eaten by birds, some falling on rock and consequently unable to take root, and some falling on thorns which choked the seed and the worms ate them. It was, according to the parable, only the seeds that fell on good soil and were able to germinate, producing a crop thirty, sixty, or even a hundredfold, of what had been sown.”




Continuing with the Thomas vs. the synoptic gospels comparison, Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman, (in The Secret Sayings of Jesus), write:
"Thomas adds a few details. The sower 'filled his hand' before he cast the seed; this looks like no more than an attempt to indicate the fullness or completeness of the sowing (of souls or spirits). But when we read that the seed which fell on 'the rock' (so only Luke) not only had no root but also 'put forth no ear up to heaven' we are confronting a combination of this parable with the Naassene doctrine of the heavenward ascent of the good seed. The seed which fell upon thorns was not only choked but also eaten by the worm - presumably the worm of Gehenna though Thomas does not say so, since, like other Gnostics, he doubtless holds that hell is on earth.”




An interesting sidebar:
(cf., Mark 9:48--the Valley of Hinnom (translated as Gehenna) was a RAVINE south of Jerusalem, just outside the city wall -- it was used as a REFUSE PIT -- all types of trash, animal carcasses, and even the corpses of wicked criminals that didn't deserve burial were disposed of there. This place was CONSTANTLY BURNING, and smoke could be seen rising up into the sky above Jerusalem... This fire burned day and night, day and night.... And any part of piece of any BODY that fell out of the flames, the worms would devour it.)


Again from Grant and Freedman:
“The good fruit, unlike the bad, is brought forth 'up to heaven,' sometimes sixty-fold, sometimes one-hundred-twenty-fold. Thomas feels free to give these figures since Matthew has one hundred, sixty, and thirty; Mark has thirty-sixty-one hundred; and Luke has simply one hundred. His figure is more logical; one hundred twenty is twice as much as sixty." 



Again from Wikipedia:
“Interpretations:
Most scholars think the parable was originally optimistic in outlook, in that despite failures eventually the "seed" will be successful, take root and produce a large "crop". It is the first parable to occur in Mark, which according to the Q hypothesis was the first book it occurred in.”




Interesting Sidebar:

“The Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written independently, each using Mark and a second document called "Q" as a source. Q is defined as the "common" material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark.

The Q source (also Q document or Q) is a hypothetical written source for the Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke. Q (short for the German Quelle, or "source") is defined as the "common" material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. This ancient text supposedly contained the logia or quotations from Jesus.”



I was lucky enough to discover this selection from THE SERMONS OF MARTIN LUTHER, VOL. II. In this sermon, liberally quoted here, Luther expounds with extraordinary clarity on the parable. With Luther we must move ahead a little, as he gives his interpretation of Jesus’ interpretation, but for our purpose of the moment that is fine:

“SECTION I. THE NATURE OF THE WORD SPOKEN HERE.
This Gospel treats of the disciples and the fruits, which the Word of God develops in the world. It does not speak of the law nor of human institutions; but, as Christ himself says, of the Word of God, which he himself the sower preaches, for the law bears no fruit, just as little as do the institutions of men. Christ however sets forth here four kinds of disciples of the divine Word.



“SECTION II. THE DISCIPLES OF THIS WORD.
The first class of disciples are those who hear the Word but neither understand nor esteem it. And these are not the mean people in the world, but the greatest, wisest and the most saintly, in short they are the greatest part of mankind; for Christ does not speak here of those who persecute the Word nor of those who fail to give their ear to it, but of those who hear it and are students of it, who also wish to be called true Christians and to live in Christian fellowship with Christians and are partakers of baptism and the Lord's Supper. But they are of a carnal heart, and remain so, failing to appropriate the Word of God to themselves, it goes in one ear and out the other. Just like the seed along the wayside did not fall into the earth, but remained lying on the ground in the wayside, because the road was tramped hard by the feet of man and beast and it could not take root.

Therefore Christ says the devil cometh and taketh away the Word from their heart, that they may not believe and be saved.”


Luke:
Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts,


“What power of Satan this alone reveals, that hearts, hardened through a worldly mind and life, lose the Word and let it go, so that they never understand or confess it; but instead of the Word of God Satan sends false teachers to tread it under foot by the doctrines of men. For it stands here written both that it was trodden under foot, and the birds of the heaven devoured it. The birds Christ himself interprets as the messengers of the devil, who snatch away the Word and devour it, which is done when he turns and blinds their hearts so that they neither understand nor esteem it, as St. Paul says in 2 Tim 4:4: "They will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables." By the treading under foot of men Christ means the teachings of men, that rule in our hearts, as he says in Mt 5:13 also of the salt that has lost its savor, it is cast out and trodden under foot, of men; that is, as St. Paul says in 2 Ths. 2:11, they must believe a lie because they have not been obedient to the truth. . .

“The second class of hearers are those who receive the Word with joy, but they do not persevere. These are also a large multitude who understand the Word correctly and lay hold of it in its purity without any spirit of sect, division or fanaticism, they rejoice also in that they know the real truth, and are able to know how they may be saved without works through faith. They also know that they are free from the bondage of the law, of their conscience and of human teachings; but when it comes to the test that they must suffer harm, disgrace and loss of life or property, then they fall and deny it; for they have not root enough, and are not planted deep enough in the soil. Hence they are like the growth on a rock, which springs forth fresh and green, that it is a pleasure to behold it and it awakens bright hopes. But when the sun shines hot it withers, because it has no soil and moisture, and only rock is there. So these do; in times of persecution they deny or keep silence about the Word, and work, speak and suffer all that their persecutors mention or wish, who formerly went forth and spoke, and confessed with a fresh and joyful spirit the same, while there was still peace and no heat, so that there was hope they would bear much fruit and serve the people. For these fruits are not only the works, but more the confession, preaching and spreading of the Word, so that many others may thereby be converted and the kingdom of God be developed.


“The third class are those who hear and understand the Word, but still it falls on the other side of the road, among the pleasures and cares of this life, so that they also do nothing with the Word. And there is quite a large multitude of these; for although they do not start heresies, like the first, but always possess the absolutely pure Word, they are also, not attacked on the left as the others with opposition and persecution; yet they fall on the right side, and it is their ruin that they enjoy peace and good days. Therefore they do not earnestly give themselves to the Word, but become indifferent and sink in the cares, riches and pleasures of this life, so that they are of no benefit to anyone. Therefore they are like the seed that fell among the thorns. Although it is not rocky but good soil; not wayside but deeply plowed soil; yet, the thorns will not let it spring up, they choke it. Thus these have all in the Word that is needed for their salvation, but they do not make any use of it, and they rot in this life in carnal pleasures. To these belong those who hear the Word but do not bring under subjection their flesh. They know their duty but do it not, they teach but do not practice what they teach, and are this year as they were last.


“The fourth class are those who lay hold of and keep the Word in a good and honest heart, and bring forth fruit with patience, those who hear the Word and steadfastly retain it, meditate upon it and act in harmony with it. The devil does not snatch it away, nor are they thereby led astray, moreover the heat of persecution does not rob them of it, and the thorns of pleasure and the avarice of the times do not hinder its growth; but they bear fruit by teaching others and by developing the kingdom of God, hence they also do good to their neighbor in love; and therefore Christ adds, "they bring forth fruit with patience." For these must suffer much on account of the Word, shame and disgrace from fanatics and heretics, hatred and jealousy with injury to body and property from their persecutors, not to mention what the thorns and the temptations of their own flesh do, so that it may well be called the Word of the cross; for he who would keep it must bear the cross and misfortune, and triumph. . .”


Clearly, Martin Luther was a guy who had all his philosophical ducks in a row; what the proper dogmatic interpretation of the scriptures must be is very clear in his mind; and although we are grateful to him for his ability to illuminate the text in terms of his own lofty perspective, we perceive in the background an axe he has to grind, the result of which is an unfortunate limitation of the possibilities of the passage.

Remember that one of the theological disagreements between Catholicism and the new Lutheran Protestantism was the issue of good-works-versus-grace-dichotomy. Catholics have always placed a heavy emphasis on good works as the key to the kingdom, while Protestants have relied on grace as the only sure guarantee of salvation. In the past weeks we have been in emphatic agreement with this latter perspective, since we have repeatedly rejected the language of the mind in favor of the language of the heart, as the true purveyor of divine truth. This quotation from Section II of Luther’s sermon is in wholehearted agreement with this opinion:

“The second class of hearers are those who receive the Word with joy, but they do not persevere. These are also a large multitude who understand the Word correctly and lay hold of it in its purity without any spirit of sect, division or fanaticism, they rejoice also in that they know the real truth, and are able to know how they may be saved without works through faith.”



And yet, in the last section I read, he lets slip this remark:

“. . .but they bear fruit by teaching others and by developing the kingdom of God, hence they also do good to their neighbor in love; and therefore Christ adds, "they bring forth fruit with patience."


Remember me telling you to try and imagine the seeds as ACTIONS in addition to THOUGHTS? You see where I’m going with this? Absolutely, we must agree that our sins are forgiven through grace, and yet is really quite easy, nay, necessary, to see an ETHICAL imperative associated with right thinking. I have always admired Jesus for the PRACTICALITY of His advice; He really has a lot of good clues about the right way to live. True, we are never truly OF the world when we have entered into the spiritual path, but we are still, by God, IN the world, and we have to figure out a way to make it work.

Why does the sower go forth to plant his seed? To bring forth fruit, that’s why. Is this heavenly fruit, or earthly fruit? I think Jesus is telling us how to live here and now. Even if the seeds represent “words” spoken in the world of men, the SPEAKING of those words is an ACT.

We are here speaking of the relationship of inner to outer reality. Once again, my old compadre C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape has much to say here:
“As regards his more general attitude towards the war, you must not rely too much on those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in Christian, or ant-Christian, periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can, of course, be encouraged to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed toward the German leaders, and that is good as far as it goes. But it is usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against some imaginary scapegoats. He has never met these people in real life—they are lay figures modeled on what he gets from newspapers. The results of such fanciful hatred are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door.

"Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all inflaming his hatred of the Germans, if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train. Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us. (I don’t, of course, mean that the patient mistakes for his will, the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart.) All sorts of virtues painted in the fantasy or approved by the intellect or even, in some measure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from Our Father’s house: indeed, they may make him more amusing when he gets there.”


And so, we must see that even if we speak with bravest fire and have not charity, charity expressed in acts of kindness and helpfulness to our neighbors, nothing we know or believe is worth squat. The formation of virtues, virtues which multiply exponentially through the nurture of spiritual power, should be our primary goal in this life. To me, good works are the only way to justify a career on this puny planet. Thus, just as Karma operates in full force on the mundane level, while Heavenly Love ever breaks the chains of causality, so do good works validate our position in society while grace insures our place in the higher life. Moreover, good works are almost never for OUR benefit, but for OTHERS’ benefit. Thus, in giving selflessly of ourselves in Christian love, we imitate the Master, and do, as He did, our Father’s work.

Let us pray:
Jesus, direct our paths in this life and let our seed fall on good ground. Let your Heavenly Love take root in our deepest selves and bring forth fruit in this world and the next. Amen.

Glennallen, AK
June 5, 2011