A sower went out to sow. He scattered the seed in all directions, with varying results. Some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it up. No response, predictable waste. Some fell on stony soil and it sprang up but for lack of moisture withered. Quick response but bad conditions. Failure. Some fell among thorns which were also growing and soon choked the seedling. Bad company. Disappointment. Some fell on good soil and grew healthily, a hundred times return on investment. A successful outcome of nature.
Jesus delivered this story, we are told, to a large crowd of people who were pouring out of the towns to see and hear him. He told this parable to a multiplicitous multitude: some real seekers, some curious, some just following the crowd as they would attach themselves to any crowd. Didn’t he realise that his words would fall on their ears as the seed in the parable fell on different types of soil? If he had wanted to win them all over and enjoy a short-lived Oscar award he would have chosen another message with less of the fullness of truth buried in its apparent emptiness. At the end he throws the ball into our court by saying: ‘Anyone who has ears to hear, let them hear.’ Our own ears are the soil into which the seed of his words fall.
This could lead to different conclusions about the crowd – which now includes the (say) two hundred generations that have heard the same story since. Or, the twenty hundred-year old people that, hand to hand, link us to that moment of the first teaching. We could conclude that all his listeners would be ranked in terms of their receptivity to the seed of his teaching. A pity then for everyone who is not in the good soil category. And most of us would suspect we are not in that. Are we really producing a hundredfold on the investment he has made in us?
Or we can conclude that at different times, different phases of our life, in different moods, subject to different conditions, each of us contains all these different responses. We are after all very inconsistent, much of the time.
In search of lost time, we see our many failures and missed opportunities, many misunderstandings and not a few stupidities. If we can’t, others will point them out to us.
The birds who ate the seed before it germinated, the short-lived and the choked seedlings – are they not also part of the great cycle of nature? Is anything really ever wasted? Does anything really die? Of course it does. But when it is accepted and seen in the big picture it is, as Wittgenstein saw, touched by ‘redeeming love’. What is the greater force in the germination of the seed of our life: failure or forgiveness?