In today’s Gospel (Mt. 13:1-23), the disciples ask the Lord why he speaks to the people in parables. It is a fair question and one that can help us get at the heart of what a parable is meant to be about and meant to do. A parable is not a set of engineering manuals which yield precise directions and formulations once we figure out the proper “code”. Rather, a parable is better viewed as an invitation to a grand feast. It is an entrance into which we are called to enter and it is then in the context of this “feast” that life is found – we encounter others, relationships are born or nourished and all of a sudden there are new insights or possibilities gained that we could never have predicted. A parable is a living reality that we are meant to enter into, move about and even sit within, which then brings us insight into how to live Christian discipleship more deeply and truly. A parable does not need to explain itself and neither are we meant to pry and wring truths out of parables by our own effort. Parables speak. We are to listen.
Through this Sunday’s parable of the sower and the seed our Lord is inviting us into the mystery of encounter with himself (which occurs according to our Lord’s own generosity) and the mystery of keeping our hearts open and cultivated because we know neither the time nor the hour.
Our gospel parable might be fleshed out more by the use of another parable – a commercial put out a while back by Catholic Charities in the Philippines. In the commercial a businessman enters into a crowded subway. He is hurrying to work and is carrying his sack lunch for the day. He notices a homeless man sitting on the ground in a corner of the station. The man is dirty and obviously in need. At first the businessman makes to walk past him but then he stops, walks over the homeless man and gives him his lunch.
Now, a second scene – the next day – once more the businessman enters the station carrying his lunch. Again, he sees the homeless man. He tries to walk by but his conscience will not allow him. He heads over and gives the man his lunch but things change and instead of seeing the face of the homeless man the businessman sees the face of Christ.
A third scene – this time from the viewpoint of the homeless man sitting in the station. We see the businessman coming forward to give his lunch but now it is the businessman’s face that changes and in its place the homeless man sees the face of Christ.
In both the commercial and the parable we are invited into the great feast of Christian giving and receiving and encountering Christ within that living dynamic.
It has been pointed out that an aspect of the parable of the sower and the seed is the almost remarkable carelessness of the sower. This is not a farmer who has to have perfect soil for his supply of seeds!
Without saying it, Jesus is comparing the sower to himself. His generosity in sowing seeds is entirely his, not ours. The sower does not calculate nor measure his generosity … there is no part of the soil that he does not consider worthy of attention. (Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia)
At the heart of the mystery of encountering Christ and experiencing the Kingdom is a gratuitousness that can neither be programmed nor predicted on our part. The generosity is God’s and not ours. One factor of note though in this mystery is the condition of the inner terrain of our hearts and the need of being “good soil”. This is important as the parable teaches us that the sower can sow at any time and in any circumstance – from a church pew on Sunday to a busy subway station during the week. The generosity is God’s and not our own.
The power of the Catholic Charities commercial is that it does not need to explain anything. It just portrays a moment and it that moment the man’s heart was good soil. He made a decision and in that decision the Kingdom was able to break through and each recognized the face of Christ in the other.
God’s generosity is sowing seeds is entirely his, not ours.