Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Seed & Soil, Word & Womb

I'm reading an interesting book -- Hints of Heaven -- that analyzes each of Jesus' parables. "Analyzes" is probably the wrong word; there's some of that, but it's more of a meditation on their meaning. I will try to add to Rutler's exegeses if I can, but there are no guarantees, the spirit blowing where it will and all.

Now, if this is God speaking, these parables should be of concern to us all -- not just the content but the form as well, for why should a co-creator of the cosmos specifically choose this idiosyncratic manner of expression? There must be something about the parabolic form itself that is conducive to transmitting what he wants us to know, and in the way he wants us to know it.

But in any event, as foretold in Psalms, I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world. That's a bold statement!

Let's get some preluminaries out of the way -- like, exactly what is a parable? It is "a similitude employing a brief narrative in order to teach a spiritual lesson" (Rutler). All told there are 24 of them in the synoptic gospels, but for whatever reason, none in John. They are "hints of heaven," or "delicate and veiled indications of our true homeland." Thus they are what we annoyingly call reveilation, revealing and veiling at the same time.

Jesus even gives us one reason why he communicates in parables: because some people hear without understanding and see without perceiving. Thus, it seems that the parable requires a bit of mental work on our end in order to make the penny drop. It reminds me of psychotherapy, the trick of which is to guide the patient to a realization, as opposed to just providing the answer.

The first parable is The Sower and the Seed. It goes a little like this (I just grabbed the first translation that came up; it's not necessarily the same one Rutler uses):

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path and was trodden under foot, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil and grew, and yielded hundredfold.

In this case, Jesus even explains the parable to the slow-on-the-uptake disciples:

The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop...

This parable, according to Rutler, is about our receptivity to grace; it is "more about the soils than the Sower." The seed is the Word, but herebelow the Word falls into more or less fertile soil. Jesus names four kinds of soil with differing degrees of receptiveness and therefore fertility.

Rutler identifies the first -- the seed which falls by the wayside -- with "the path of the proud, who consider the seed, the word of God, out of place or irrelevant."

This, it seems to me, speaks of the quintessential infertile egghead who prefers his own barren path to the fruitful fields of God -- like an ugly asphalt street running through an orchard. Think of academia. Because it has to do with "knowledge," some divine seeds inevitably fall there. But what happens to them? They are carelessly trampled underfoot, and if noticed at all, will be regarded as weeds instead of the very nourishment that sustains truth.

The rocky ground goes to those people who, deep down, are as shallow as can be. "This soil is superficiality, the seductive cosmetic of obtuseness." It is "the senselessness of those who channel-surf through life, addicted to shallow entertainment and insubstantial celebrities..." They are distracted by distraction and addicted to addiction. As Homer Simpson says of himself, "I've discovered my one weakness -- it's that I'm weak!

What about the thorny ground? "The seed that falls here is choked by illusions." It is a mixture of good and bad -- including good and bad religion. (I could say more, but I'm out of time; but think of all the chopra-esque religious parasites, or parasites on religion!)

Finally there is the good soil, which "makes a hybrid of heaven and earth." Pneumaticonically speaking, it is (↓↑), "the indescribable conversation between man and God"; it is the seed that "takes root in the earth [↓] and flourishes, growing upward [↑] toward paradise." I suppose the Archetype of archetypes here would be Word & Womb.

But more generally, it is a "blast of objective grace" plunged into "the soil of human subjectivity." Whatever else the mind is, it is womb and soil for the ends of birth and harvest.


julie said...

Looks like a really interesting book.

On a similar note, (and Mrs. G. might find this one interesting), my study group is currently working through this study of Mark. There's a lot of very helpful historical context, plus discussion of the repeated patterns and the way Mark uses sets of twos and threes to provide more depth:

"At the end of chapter 8, Mark seems to give a reason for his method when he describes Jesus' healing of a blind man in two stages. Here he dramatizes the idea that the blind man cannot shift from darkness to vision all at once; he needs to go through a process of coming to sight. "

Elsewhere, on parables,

"The rabbis described parables as 'making handles for the Torah,'...

" was common practice for Jewish teachers to place several parables on the same theme next to each other so that the student could reflect on different possibilities of meaning. It was said that they placed them next to each other like 'pearls on a string.' So when we see three parables on seeds placed together, we should assume that they are intended to be read in relationship to one another. This interrelated meaning becomes even more urgent in view of Mark's habit of expressing himself in triads."

Rick said...

I can't recommend enough Arnot's:
The Parables of Our Lord
He likewise compares parables which seem similar but really are not exactly. Yeast is a thing common in three parables, I think, but not in the same way.

Btw, it's Rutler, correct?

Glad you found this book. I smell a series here..

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, of course the Rutler did it.

Magister said...

ah, soil

try talking to Lefties in academia about soil, and they think you're a crypto Nazi

living among academics and their ideas is like living in the whirlwind with Paolo and Francesca

i.e. hell, not not too hell-ish

mushroom said...

We like parables. The heart (soil) is one of those hidden things. As humans we never know where the Word that is sown will take root and be productive. Sometimes it is where we would least expect it.

Pain and suffering are good plows.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Pain and suffering are good plows

Ah, 'shroom. You are always so good with words. It is appreciated-- even if I don't say so often enough.

Rick said...

Yes, I was struck by that line too, Joan. Very visual and clearly a love for the parables went in to it.
Thanks Mushroom.