When I began to seriously read Holy Scripture, I was very quickly struck by some things. One of the things that struck me (at the time) as very odd and confusing was Jesus’ teaching technique. His use of parables was terribly confusing to me at the time. Like, why don’t you just say what you have to say?! Why beat around the bush with these stories that, at times, seem so obtuse?
What exactly is a parable? The word parable means “putting things side by side.”
“According to Potapov (2000), "a parable is a spiritual lesson of a story developed by comparison to everyday life. The Lord's parables draw memorable details from nature, human, social, economic, or religious life of His time." A parable is similar to an allegory, although the latter usually denotes a more detailed comparison of elements of a tale (Tasker 1962, p. 932).”
In other words, as it relates to Jesus telling parables, He was telling a story to illustrate a point. What’s funny to me is that most of the people who should have “gotten it” did not. The Pharisees and religious leaders, as well as the disciples at times, just couldn’t seem to pick up what He was putting down. The common folk, on the other hand, seemed to have no problem understanding what Jesus was saying.
We should be more like the common folk. Holy Scripture is not really that hard to understand. What Jesus had to say then and now is not that hard to understand, at least on the surface level. Granted, there are layers to Scripture. But, the message of Jesus is not that hard to understand if we are willing to approach with humility and belief.
Our two primary texts today are:
2 Corinthians 11:19-33, 12:1-9
I invite you to read those texts before proceeding. If you’ve read them, you may look and not see any similarity on the surface. We may look at these two and think, ‘What do they have to do with one another?’ Well, I’m glad you asked, and we will come to that in good time. Let’s look at our gospel text first.
I love it that Jesus tells His disciples and us what this parable is about. On one hand, it’s kinda sad that they didn’t get it and we can be sure the religious leaders of the day didn’t get it either. But Jesus is kind and patient with His disciples (at least on this occasion) and explains it to them.
There are, I think, some obvious things we can look at here and ask ourselves. What kind of soil am I, we may ask? This is a really good question to ask ourselves. And let’s be honest when we consider this question. Take a long hard look at the condition of your own heart and consider what type of soil your own heart is. Ask the Spirit what soil you are and listen to what He has to say. Are our hearts rocky soil, thorny, good ground?
It’s important for us to note some things right off the bat for ourselves. We are not the seed. Nor are we the sower. The sower is Christ Himself and the seed is the Word of God, the gospel, the good news of who Christ Himself is and what He has accomplished on our behalf.
We also need to see that the “soil” has two responsibilities:
Receive what is given.
That’s the job of the soil. Receive and bear fruit. It’s not enough just to receive. The soil must also bear fruit from that which is received. We need to hear that. We don’t get to just sit on our laurels and feel good about being the soil. There are warnings built into the story for us to let us know that we need to hear and do something with what we’ve heard.
Don’t be the “wayside” and open to the devil snatching the Word away. Guard the deposit given.
Don’t be the rocky soil that has no roots and falls away during hard times, for surely hard times will come and are even now here.
Don’t be the thorny ground that gets choked by the cares of the world. Stay focused.
Rather, be the good soil, they who “in a good and perfect heart” hear the Word, keep it and bring forth fruit.
Hear the Word. Keep it. Bring forth fruit. We don’t get to just sit on our laurels and assume we’re good soil just because we call ourselves Christian or Catholic or we attend Mass every Sunday. There is work to do, Kingdom work, and we don’t get to just sit around and assume on the grace of God.
Which leads us to our Epistle text. St. Paul says, in 11:30 says,
“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my infirmity.”
In this direct context, St. Paul goes on in chapter 12 to say more about his “infirmity.” We’ll get to that in a second. If we tie this back to our gospel text, I want to suggest to you that we also have an infirmity. Our infirmity is that we are, at best, rocky soil…but for the grace of God. Let us beg of our Lord more of His grace so that we may, even in our rocky state, be made good soil to hear, keep and bear fruit in keeping with His grace.
St. Paul goes on to say in chapter 12 that he has a “sting of my flesh (DR).” Other translations call it a thorn in the flesh. We’re not really sure what he is referring to here, as there have been many commentators who have theorized what it was. What it was doesn’t matter. Even St. Paul doesn’t seem too concerned about it. His focus is on Christ. He says he asked the Lord three times to let it depart.
We read in verse 9,
“And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
My grace is sufficient, Christ tells us, for even the rockiest of soil. My grace is sufficient, Christ says, for the thorny days of temptation. My grace is sufficient, Christ says, for your “infirmities.”
Let us give glory to God that our infirmity, our own infertile soil of a rocky heart, can bring forth the fruit of the gospel by the grace of God to us in the Son, Jesus Christ!