Today’s Gospel: Luke 8:4-15
Optional Memorial of Saint Januarius, Bishop and Martyr
Optional Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Today’s Gospel features the parable of the sower. The parable is notable in my mind for two reasons. One is that it is perhaps the easiest of all the parables to understand; the other is that, in spite of that, Jesus follows the parable with an explanation of its meaning.
If today’s reading had only included the first five verses, most of us would get the idea. Yet Luke describes the disciples asking Jesus what the parable might mean.
Jesus goes on to say something I find interesting:
“Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you; but to the rest, they are made known through parables so that ‘they may look but not see, and hear but not understand.’”
In the quote within the quote above, Jesus cites Isaiah chapter 6: “Go, and say to this people, ‘Listen and listen, but never understand! Look and look, but never perceive!’” Jesus seems to be saying that he does not really want his audience to understand what he is saying. The contradiction for me is that, at least in this case, it seemed obvious what the parable meant, but his comment to the disciples afterward is a mystery to me.
As I was reviewing this reading to write this commentary, I came upon a story on CNN.com by a professor from the Vanderbilt University Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences. In this piece, Professor Amy-Jill Levine describes four parables that everyone gets wrong. Everyone? Oh my!
Her premise is that we can’t understand the parables because we are not first century Jews. People of Jesus’ time would have, for example, viewed the parable of the landowner as a call for wage earners to advocate for the unemployed, nothing whatever to do with the afterlife. (Whatever did she make of the opening line, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner”?)
The prodigal son? Simply a story that tells us that one son counted and the other didn’t.
The author may be right about what meaning Jesus’ contemporaries would have taken from the parables; does that make them right and us wrong? It’s my guess that Jesus was speaking to an audience over millennia. Perhaps he knew that his audiences were made up of those who could hear but not understand. He knew that you could not pour new wine into old wineskins.
From the viewpoint of the 21st century Christian, it is quite easy to understand the symbolic meaning of the seed sown in rocky soil or in sand. Perhaps Jesus felt that his contemporaries needed to have the parable interpreted because 1st century Jews were not really his intended audience. Perhaps his many parables were not directed to them but past them.
After telling the Parable of the Sower, Jesus cried out, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.” What did he mean by that?
Jesus, I pray that I might listen to your word and understand.
We thank our friends at The Word Among Us for providing our gospel reflection team with copies of Abide In My Word 2015: Mass Readings at Your Fingertips. To pray the daily gospels with this wonderful resource, visit The Word Among Us.
Copyright 2015 Kirk Whitney