Parables are like ogres, which are like onions…they have layers.
One of the layers that adds rich meaning to the reading and understanding of Jesus’ parables is packaged in identifying with the different characters in the story. This is quickly and easily seen in the parable of the prodigal son where most of us wrestle with whether we are the older brother or the younger brother.
Sometimes there are unexpected characters in these stories that are off in the distance. They aren’t off in the distance because they are unnamed in the story. They are off in the distance because we, the reader, put them there because we don’t like to see them in the foreground of the story and have to give them much consideration. They are in the story and while are more difficult to notice, still carry a lot of meaning if we are willing to consider them and even identify with them (see ourselves in them and them in us).
When Jesus told the parable of the sower or the parable of the soils (which is probably a better title) in Mark 4 we are invited into the story to find out what kind of soil we are. We are also invited into the role of sower as we are called to spread the gospel to others. There are powerful lessons to be learned in considering those things and I think the main point of the parable is made in learning from that.
However, there is another role or character in the story that has escaped my attention until more recently. I don’t think I recognized its presence because I quickly assign that character to someone other than myself. The character is the one who stands in opposition to the seed taking root and growing into a thriving and healthy plant. I am talking about the birds, rocks and thorns.
This is me in my worst of moments…moments of cynicism and criticism where I choke the life out of someone else and keep them from thriving in Christ. These are times when I lack joy and take that out on another Christian. These are occasions when I fail to throw the seed with gusto because I know I am bitter enough to pick it back off the ground before it has time to take root. These are times my heart is not right to cultivate the soil of those around me much less my own soil and I become a rocky place where spiritual transformation is difficult to near impossible.
I don’t like to admit it but sometimes I am the birds, rocks and thorny places. It is only by recognizing that, that I am able to remove those tendencies from my heart and replace them with good soil.
How many times are we also the brother in the story of the prodigal son who looks down on the brother who is limping back in from the cold looking for shelter and food and a place with his father.
Often in this parable we need to also look at Jesus as the sower, instead of another person, and ourselves as the ground, in that we who have been converted often get to a place where we are rocky, thorny and hard. We form positions and become hardened by pride and don’t want to accept that which goes against our already taught and formed positions.