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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
"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.
June 12, 2011