Sometimes we think we know something so well we ignore its value and meaning.
We stop listening or we jump to the end of the story confident we know the journey.
We know every parable was Jesus' way to open up the Kingdom of God and show us our relationship to it.
Jesus used the parable to try and break open the stiff minds and hardened hearts of his listeners, to get them to think and chew on an idea, to picture a new reality.
This is the parable of the Sower.
Which seems to have some added significance and weight - as scripture says
"He spoke to them at great length"
Jesus wanted to perfectly clear (at least a clear as a parable is meant to be).
In this well known parable there are three elements.
Jesus is not so concerned about two of those elements. Not because they are unimportant.
Quite the opposite, they are most important, but they are also complete, constant, and nothing can be added to them.
In this parable Jesus is not concerned with giving or the gift, but about the openness and ability of receiving the gift. It is not about the sower or the seed, but it is all about the soil.
Jesus knew and proclaimed that God is the giver of all life, and that the father sustains that life through his Word - love in all it's forms of blessings and grace.
And what the father gives and sustains is always fruitful and unstoppable like the mustard seed (the smallest of seeds) growing into the largest of tree.
The first reading beautifully describes this inherent fruitfulness.
“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 – my Word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it"
This is God's promise and our hope.
So the sower (God - the giver of life) and the seed (His Word - through which that life flows) is not the focus.
The plot twist is our varied readiness and openness to God's gift of the Word.
The question mark, the variable, which Jesus wants to highlight in this a parable is the human dilemma (which the early church herself pondered) - why would someone not want the gift?
Even the most urban of us know soil, by it's very nature, is inconsistent and varied. It can be sandstone, clay, rocky, loamy or rich.
It can stay as it it is found, untilled and fallow or it can be tended and improved.
Jesus tells us that some seed falls on the hard path where there is no chance of it taking root. This hard path, beaten and worn, is the hardness of eyes and ears closed so tight we can not even hear the Good News or see its effect around us.
It is the hardness of selfishness and a self centeredness that hardens the heart.
There is no openness for encounter, no willingness for conversion, no desire for transformation - there is only barren ground. Jesus describes barrenness.
"They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand"
Some seed falls on rocky ground where there is a thin layer of soil.
The seed takes hold but it is quickly killed by heat, and lack of nourishment.
It is the Word received with shallow and short lived enthusiasm. Change begins and there is potential, but that potential dies because it is not sustained and encouraged.
We hear but we forget, we see, but turn away from what is seen.
We are moved by God's truth and beauty, but that movement fades as Sunday turns to Monday. Jesus describes this in realized potential as -
"They will hardly hear with their ears and have closed their in case they see or understand with their hearts and be converted"
Jesus goes on - some seed falls among weeds and thorns. This seed sprouts into a new tender shoot. But, this new growth is surrounded by things stronger then itself and it succumbs to their stronger, more ruthless influences, and it is crowded out by the darkness, and it can even be strangled to death.
It is the planted Word beginning to grow into faith, but as it grows toward the light it begins to call into question our deep seated attitudes and self serving convictions that are not compatible with the Good News growing within us. This growing faith becomes boxed in, stale and routine, it is put in its place by the world it is meant to enlighten.
But finally Jesus tells us some seed is sown on rich fertile soil.
God’s life giving Word, in all it's manifestations, falls on receptive ground where an active faith takes hold and it roots drive deep into receptive hearts and vigorous growth produces amazingly good and marvelously abundant and varied fruit. Jesus says -
"But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it , who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred fold"
The dynamics of the parable are simple - it is a reality check. Who are we? How do we hear and see?
To hear and see, in scripture, goes beyond the physical act itself.
To hear and see God's truth is to make what is heard and seen an indwelling action that changes lives. It is always life giving and transformative.
This fruitful hearing and seeing has four actions: to listen and see with an open and unconditional mind, to understand what one hears and sees, to accept what one understands, and this acceptance flows out into our behavior as human beings and as Christians.
The question asked that day and what we need to ask ourselves is where do we fall on the spectrum?
Are we open to the God given potential within us or are we closed up and barren?
Do we refuse to listen and see the Word of life? Do we listen half heartedly and only give it a passing glance.
Do we understand with heads but not hearts? Do we accept,u but do not live out?
If you are like me we are a mixture of types and in need tender loving care and ongoing amending.
This comes from ongoing transformation through life in the Spirit, nourishment through the sacramental life of the Church, watering and weeding by other faithful and active believers in our home, parish and community. We are all gardens and gardeners.
The Kingdom of God is on the way. It can not be stopped and like the rain it will produce good results in its time.
We can ignore it coming, we can sit back and hope for the best, or we can become the soil it takes to absorb God’s word and by its power become fruitful and produce what is required, that is, we ourselves can begin to sow seeds that others will care for.