by Cheryl Anne Tuggle
Reading is one of the ways writers hone their craft. And there is no literature better for this than the Holy Scriptures. The parables of Christ are especially rich in imagery and contain some fine examples of literary device. Probably because I was raised on a farm, I’m particularly drawn to the allegories that have agrarian themes. When our Lord talks about dirt, barns, grapevines, or sheep and goats, he’s speaking my language. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”.
Where I go deaf is in the lesson.
Luke 8:5-14 paints a typically vivid picture: “A sower went out to sow his seed”.
Here, I’m all ears and inner eyes, seeing the planter setting to his task. I’ve never been to the Holy Land, so the sower of my imagination, heading into the dawn on a misty morn, is wearing—not a tunic—but overalls, and the burlap sack slung across one thick shoulder bulges with cotton seed.
Jesus is a great storyteller. Character and setting are established in a single opening sentence. The scene building continues and just three sentences later the tale has a beginning, middle and end.
“And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up it withered away because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.”
The next line caused me to roll my eyes when I read it as a young girl:
“And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be?”
I was unimpressed with the disciples at that point. Anybody could see the Lord wasn’t just spinning yarns for the fun of it. I don’t remember now what I thought the meaning to the parable was at age 7 or 8, but I recall thinking them awfully slow for not grasping it. Those poor fellows just hadn’t been steeped in fairy tales and folklore like I was, I figured, or they’d have gotten the message right off. Being God in the flesh, Jesus is of course more patient in his answer than I would have been. He even gives his disciples special status as receivers of the mysteries of God before saying, “Now the parable is this.
The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are they that hear; then comes the devil, and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
That child, so adept at gleaning the moral from a fairy tale, is gone. As an older adult I seem to be growing denser by the day, more lesson resistant. According to our parish priest, who gave a homily on this parable not long ago, my difficulty is a common one and chronic. With the passing of childhood, so goes openness and simplicity. Children might fib to each other and on occasion to adults but, unlike us, they do not lie to themselves. The key, then, to restoring spiritual childlikeness to a soul grown stony and hard, to giving it the freshness of new-turned earth, must lie within the last passage of this gospel reading, the line our priest stressed his homily. In it, Jesus defines good ground:
…“they which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it.”