We still use elements of the parable every time we use similes, analogies and metaphors, in our own story telling. We try to highlight a true or surprising or even a hidden quality of something by comparing it to something else that isn’t the same, but has elements in common. It often takes the form “it is like”
The dawn is like rosy fingers, his habits are like a night owls, wool is like snow, work is like
drowning in paper, love is like a rose or a heart is as cold as ice.
The New Testament scholar C.H. Dodd says of Jesus
“He used metaphor or simile drawn from nature or the common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in the sufficient doubt of its precise application to tease it into active thought”How often was Jesus asked? Where is the Kingdom of God? What does it look like? When is it coming?
Can you really answer the unanswerable? Can you describe the indescribable?
But, trying to answer these questions, by “teasing the mind of the listener into active thought” as Dodd suggests, is the heart of all of Jesus’ parables.
What is the Kingdom of Heaven?
“Well, Jesus would say “the Kingdom of Heaven is like”.
Even the Son of God, could say the only thing you could say about the inexpressible transcendence of the Kingdom of Heaven - that it was like something else, more familiar and experienced; leaven, a lamp, a pearl, a hidden treasure, an vineyard, an owner of a vineyard, a forgiving father, a good Samaritan, a mustard seed, a fishing net, and so on.
When is the Kingdom coming? Jesus says, only the Father knows, but it will come unexpected like a thief in the night or like the unannounced return of the master.
Jesus also used the parable to say something about his own mystery; I am like a good shepherd , or like the gate to the sheep fold, I am like a vine, I am the bread of life, I am living water, I am like poured out wine, I am like the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies so as to produce much fruit.
The common thread of all Gospel Parables is the hidden and multilayered invitation to faith in Jesus, belief in the Good News he preached and the transforming reality of the Kingdom of God, which he himself had ushered in. Of course, they are all one in the same.
Today we hear Jesus teaching the crowd about the coming Kingdom of God, using the parable of the sower who casts seed onto the ground.
The seed is assumed good and the casting is generous. We are told that some seed fell on poor soil and failed to take root. Some fell on marginal soil and was overcome by weeds, and thistles. And some seed fell on good soil where it produces in great abundance. One hundredfold we are told.
Many listening would hear an echo from the book of Ezra
“For just as the farmer sows many seeds upon the ground and plants a multitude of seedlings, not all that have been sown will come upon due season and not all that were planted will take root, so all who have been sown in the world will not be saved”
In an agricultural world, the listeners would get that regardless of the quality of seed and the diligence of the sower, it still did not guarantee a good harvest. There are other variables and obstacles to overcome.
Some of those listening to Jesus might have then thought to themselves.The heart is like the land, varied and diverse. Sometimes open and inviting, sometimes stubborn and unforgiving. And like the land the heart, needs to be loved, cared for, cultivated and nurtured.
But, again like the land, the heart resists and fights back.“Some have ears, but do not hear and some have eyes but do not see” Jesus said.
This is the painful mystery of faith.We can hear but do not recognize the voice. We can see, but only what we (or the world) wants us to see. Untended we lay fallow and prefer being dry and barren to flourishing and fruitfulness.
We ourselves can be the hard and sharp things, obstacles to the harvest.But, the heart of this parable is not what we are like, but what God is like -
“Thus says the Lord; just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful . . . So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth, shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it”.
In God’s merciful love the season of planting and harvesting comes around again and again. What seems futile and hopeless will come to pass.
Simply said - what God promises, God will do and the good seed will continue to be sown by he who loves us till the end of time.