Matthew 13:1-2 | 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
The Marriage of the Reader and the Storyteller: the Wisdom of the Parables
I’m a “thrower-outer.” Someone else might be able to use what sits idle on our shelves, and why should that item go to waste? But, a small collection of children’s books has survived every purge. These stories encapsulate a time, deepen in their meaning over the years, and offer a starting point for an exchange. In them, I hear pajama-clad giggles and see sleepy smiles. The words on their pages are alive.
Jesus knew, and capitalized on, the importance of story. He taught through miracles and actions, sermons, and parables. Miracles drew people to Him. Sermons informed by expanding on the law. But His parables, the stories, met people where they were and challenged them to go further, just as Matthew’s Parable of the Sower does.
Reading the parable this time, I realized the sower’s only responsibility is to disseminate the seed. He or she doesn’t do anything to change the ground where the seed falls. That observation drew me up short. Isn’t a big part of a farmer’s job to cultivate the soil, to optimize the conditions for the seed to flourish? As a parent, I take that job very seriously.
Perhaps there are times where we are to cultivate the soil where the seed will fall. As a parent, it is part of my job to do that. But I’m not charged with saving my kids, only raising them. God is the only one who can do the saving. It’s the same for others. I can’t change anyone, related or not. I can only change myself.
I was reminded of this recently during lunch with a friend. I was worried about a mutual friend of ours and didn’t know how to reach out productively. I’d been praying for help but wasn’t feeling anything. She suggested we both pray that our hearts be softened towards our mutual friend. My gut reaction was, “No, she needs the help, not me.” But as I mulled over her suggestion, I realized I’m not in charge of anyone else but me. (Not even my kids.) Nothing I do will change her. But I can allow change to happen in me that will allow me to reflect the Holy Spirit to her, to spread the seeds of God, free from the expectation that I can do more.
I think that’s one of the points of this parable. While we can scatter the seed, we can’t force it to grow. God doesn’t expect that, and it’s not our responsibility. But it is our responsibility to disseminate the seed. None of the soils, even the rich, loamy one, can produce any harvest without seed. Our part in the process, sharing the good news and reflecting the light of Christ, is crucial. We each have our own gifts and ways to spread God’s word, and we are charged to use them to do just that.
It took the marriage of me as the reader, Jesus as storyteller, and a friend’s wise counsel for me to get this lesson. Preaching at me would have turned me off. But storytelling made me think. In thinking, I stretched. In stretching, the door to change cracked open. In that opening, I think I can see Jesus’s all-knowing smile.