Matthew 13: 1-23
“Why do you speak to them in parables?” the disciples ask of Jesus today. It was one of the few lines that struck me in today’s gospel reading for two reasons. One, that in the midst of the crowd that has gathered to listen to Jesus at this point, the disciples seemingly separate themselves from this body, as if Jesus was somehow speaking to the crowd in parables but may not mean much to the disciples, in that they refer to “them” in posing the question. The second is, even in the telling of parables, do the disciples understand?
The parables of Jesus are not always easy for any of us to understand, especially when it’s based on first century agriculture and others that seem to just leave us scratching our heads. Yet, like the disciples, we too want to separate ourselves as well, as if this message is special for us and somehow we have a special understanding of what he’s talking about. As humans, we also expect black and white thinking as if there’s one way to understand and live and if I follow that then I’ll somehow know God or have relationship with this Jesus guy.
However, that’s oversimplifying parables and by no means are we separate from the message, even if it may say something to me that’s different than all of you. Only God knows where my heart is on this journey of faith and whether I like to admit it or not, whether it’s rocky ground, thorns, or the richest soil you can imagine, my heart and my life tends to be in all of those places at the same time, and like the disciples, I want to try to start separating it out, ignoring the rocky ground since it’s worthless, pull out the thorns as to not hurt myself or others, and simply focus on the rich soil.
When we do that to ourselves or others, we tend to miss the point of the parables as well and wind up cutting off parts of ourselves that we have somehow deemed unworthy or worthless by a standard I have set for myself and others. It’s not so much that the disciples want to separate themselves from the others. It just so happens to be the reality when the begin to ignore the rocky grounds and try to pull the thorns, even though deep down we know that all of it makes up who we are and somehow in order to experience the richest of soils, we have to do some heavy gardening in our own lives, not by destroying what we feel is useless, but allowing ourselves to view it through the life that comes forth from the richest of soils.
We all wish we can live our lives from that place but anyone that works at this type of gardening understands that we’re never quite there and it’s never quite enough for us until we learn to accept the landscape not as we believe it should be but as it is. In those moments, we begin to experience the possibilities of the garden and of our very lives, not cut off from what we have conditioned ourselves to dislike, but rather to embrace it and love it with the richest of soils.
The people we encounter in our lives who we view simply as rocky ground or certainly thorns, and we can all name them, are often the ones that have the most to teach us about the parts of our own landscape that we have cut off and continue to cut off because we feel they have made us unworthy in some way. Low and behold, they become those lost possibilities in our lives because we learn to love them in a new way, a deeper way, an unconditional way.
If you have ears you ought to be able to hear. If you have eyes you ought to be able to see. If you have a heart you ought to be able to love. It is the lifelong process we call faith and acceptance by allowing the rocky ground and thorns of our lives to be brought to the light, over and over again, to move to a place of wholeness and holiness. It’s the only way the garden grows and reaches its potential in life. Why does he speak in parables? Well, quite frankly, because not one of us is alike and we enter this journey in varied ways, speaking to us at different points and in different ways, but always moving us to the same place, a deeper place, the garden of life that continues to show itself within so that we can recognize that potential in the world, especially among the rocky grounds and thorns that, more than anything, need rich soil, depth, and love.