As the evangelist Luke tells it, a crowd gathers around Jesus, and he tells them a parable about a Sower who tiptoes out the front door, fills his lungs with fresh morning air, and without looking right or left, begins to sow seeds. Grabbing fistfuls from the pouch tied around his waist, he indiscriminately flings the seeds in the air, laughing at the spectacle of seeds cascading through the air, getting caught in the tangles of his hair, slipping down the sleeves of his tunic, and sliding between his dusty toes before coming to rest on the ground beneath his feet. The seeds are quality seeds, he thinks, winnowed by his hands after the last harvest. And even though the soil is less than ideal in places, he believes the harvest will be ample.
Digging deeper in his pouch for more seeds, he smiles as he recalls a story he heard an old Arab trader tell about the time when God was busy creating the world, so busy in fact, that God entrusted all the stones he had created to two angels, each of whom got one bag full. As the angels were flying over Palestine, one of the bags broke and spilled out on this tiny land, and so half the stones which were intended for the whole world ended up in Palestine! No doubt, some of the beautiful seeds in his pouch will fall on rocks, he concludes, but whether they grow or not is in God’s hands. Better to keep on scattering seeds which he knows will send tiny shoots that will twist and turn, tunnel and burrow, swivel and stretch and do everything they can to survive in the most inhospitable conditions. Afterall, these are quality seeds!
“The seed is the word of God,” Jesus tells his disciples, and those of us who’ve heard this parable countless times skim over his words in our rush to get to what we consider the nitty gritty of the story – the different soils. That’s when we begin squirming in our chair, feeling bad about our ‘soil’, our spiritual lives. Feeling judged by our shallow prayer lives. Feeling anxious about our relationship with God. Feeling inadequate about spending time with our directees. Our minds begin to spin ways we can improve ourselves, enrich our ‘spiritual soil’. Wake up early to pray. Schedule time for silent reflection. Read more scripture. Journal. Find a different spiritual director. Crack open that spiritual classic gathering dust on our bookshelf. This parable convicts us, and we cannot imagine a relationship with a Sower who looks high and low for fertile ground in our shallow hearts.
“If you have ears to hear, then hear!” Jesus shouts to the crowd, even though he suspects most of those milling around him do not understand his parable. Neither do we. Like them, we focus on the different soils because that’s where this parable grabs us. The Sower, however, focuses on the seeds. “The seed is the word of God,” Jesus says. The word he heard as boy sitting on the steps of the Temple at the feet of the learned rabbis (Lk. 2:46). The word he heard from the mouth of the desert prophet, John the Baptizer (Lk. 3:4-5). The word he heard as the waters of the Jordan sluiced down his head and Heaven broke open (Lk. 3:22). The word he heard in the wilderness, dripping from the devil’s pursed lips (Lk.4:1-12). The word he heard from the transfigured Elijah and Moses (Lk. 9:28-43). The word he heard from his mother and brothers, Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, spies, soldiers, scribes, chief priests, crowds, Herod, and Pilate challenging his ministry (Lk. 8:19; 11:37; 16:14; 20:1-7, 20-26, 27-40; 22:63-70; 23:1-12, 18- 25).
The word Jesus hears from the Voice of Heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” is the word that electrifies him, emboldens him, challenges him, strengthens him, and transforms him (Lk. 2:22). It is the word that propels him into the wilderness to face his fears and hungers (Lk. 4:1-13); the word that drives him deep into the throes of prayer amidst the solitude of the desert and mountain (Lk 5:16, 6:11); the word that pours like great drops of blood from his forehead as his closest friends sleep (Lk. 22:39-46). It is the word he comes to embody as the Word made flesh: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk. 4:18,19)
Clearly the word of God is a life-changing word; one that the hometown crowd receives with delight and amazement (Lk. 4:22), and the word that causes the crowds to wave palm branches and throw their cloaks on the dusty streets of Jerusalem in joyous celebration (Lk. 19:38). But as Luke quickly reminds us, it is also the word they reject just as he, the Word made flesh, is the word they reject. Even with ears to hear and eyes to see, the people do not trust Jesus or the word he embodies.
Jesus is brutally honest about all the ways the world conspires to ‘bung up’ our ears and blind our eyes making it difficult and sometimes impossible to hear the life-giving word of God. At any moment we may be overwhelmed by doubt, fear, worry, and care. We may be overcome with temptation, anxiety, discouragement, and abandonment. We may be overshadowed by complacency, self-righteousness, intractability, and self-assurance. With these feelings filling the soundtracks of our minds, we are unable or unwilling to listen to the one Word, “the most needful thing” we need to hear (Lk. 11:42). Despite our best, and sometimes, not so best, intentions, we find ourselves unable to trust that Voice from Heaven bringing us a life-changing word, “You are my Beloved.”
Luke’s parable of the Sower is a cautionary tale. “Pay attention to how you listen,” Jesus
warns his followers (Lk. 8:18). For the evangelist, and us, everything hangs on one little adverb, how. How do we pay attention to the way we listen? We might wish that Luke would give us a list of the top ten ways to become more aware of how we listen, but the evangelist rejects that idea because he knows, as do we, that paying attention requires a trust sharpened by suffering. He offers us stories of people in Jesus’ orbit who listen to him, who trust the life-giving word of Jesus, people who respond joyfully, gratefully, with changed lives. For those with eyes to see, Luke says, look no further than the circle of women standing on the fringes of the crowd, mesmerized by Jesus’ parable of the Sower (Lk. 8:2,3). Their bodies and minds healed by his touch, the women open their hearts and pocketbooks in response to the Word made flesh. “If you have ears to hear, then hear!” Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others remember Jesus standing over their broken bodies, whispering in their ears tales of their belovedness, and they choose the better part which will not be taken away from them as they follow that Word to the cross. They let their lights shine even as the world darkens around them (Lk. 8:16,17). The women who trust the Word made flesh: pay attention to how they listen!
Rev. Dr. Rindy Trouteaud, retired Presbyterian pastor and WVIS Associate Spiritual Director
intern from Tucker, GA. She writes weekly reflections on searching for God in the most ordinary places, Epilogue: a weekly e-letter for those considering next chapters. Sign up for Epilogue by emailing email@example.com.