Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Day of Parables (Matthew 13): 1

Weekday Mass, Wednesday week 16

Matthew 13:1-9

Jesus often taught the crowds in parables, and immediately after today’s gospel passage he is asked why he does this. And he replies very mysteriously, ‘The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.”’

It seems that not perceiving, not understanding, are part of what a parable is about. Jesus describes seemingly ordinary everyday scenes, but look closely, and there’s always something odd about them, details that don’t fit, things that just aren’t that way, in the world we know: mustard seeds that grow bigger than trees; a great treasure hidden in a field; a shepherd who abandons ninety-nine sheep to look for one. There is something riddle-like about the parables, something elusive which is trying to jolt us into a new way of seeing, a different consciousness.

It’s as though the parables of Jesus hold up a mirror, and we think we see a distorted image, but actually we are seeing the distortion of our own perception. Jesus is describing how things really are; if it seems weird to us maybe it’s because we have got reality wrong.

The parable of the sower, on the surface, seems to be a simple allegorical tale about preaching the word of God, and the effects of the word being received in different circumstances. Jesus in fact gives that explanation to the disciples later on.

But there’s still something very strange about this parable, and that is the behaviour of the sower.

If you do any gardening you’ll know that seed is a precious resource. You prepare the ground carefully, sow the seed sparingly, look after the seedlings as they come up. Even more so if you’re a farmer and the seed you sow is also the product of your labour that’s all you have to live on.

The cycles of the seasons, seed time and harvest, are the markers of a life of limited resources and careful calculation. You need to make sure you have enough to get by, there’s no room for waste, and not much room for generosity. And the ultimate limited resource we have is life itself. So many years, count them out, you don’t get them back again. I saw a Latin motto on an antique clock the other day, “diem perdidi”, “another day wasted”.

But the Sower in the parable doesn’t seem to know anything about this. He wanders along the path, recklessly flinging seed in all directions, without counting it out, without caring where it lands: on the path, on the rocks, among thorns, in the good ground. He inhabits a strange new life which knows nothing of finite resources, of holding on to what’s mine, of death. He has done with these things.

The Sower in this parable reveals to us, not the life we live, but the life of the resurrection. This is life not boundaried by death, not lived from limited resources. This is the life that God lives. And because Jesus has been raised from death into the life that God lives, we too can share in this life.

In the Eucharist Jesus comes to us once more, the one who is risen from the dead. By feeding on him we share his life. Life without limit, eternal life, the life that God lives. It is a life which is almost impossible to speak about except in the Zen-like riddles of parable. It can be known only by experience; but that experience is offered to each one of us, today and every day. “Take and eat; whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life.”

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