“Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
One of the great joys I have as a Christian and a Zen teacher is stumbling on parables of Jesus that read like koans.Such is the case today with Jesus’ parable of a Sower, Seeds and the Soil. Whenever Jesus spoke a parable, he was teaching folks about the realm of God or we could say he was pointing to the fullness of life, to the way things are. The secret to understanding this parable is hidden in plain sight. It is this:
The crop yields that Jesus mentions in this parable, 30, 60, 100-fold, are usual, they are ordinary. They are what a farmer in Palestine in the first century might expect from her work. Nothing special. No miracle here.
Given the form of this parable, you might expect something different. The form, akin to that which you might find in a fairy tale, or proverb goes like this: 1, 2, 3, miracle. That is, there are three negative outcomes and the form of the parable begs for redemption, for something like a miracle, a supernatural happenstance, And what Jesus presents to us is ordinary. In fact, everything about this parable is ordinary, the whole thing. Some seeds sprout and grow and for a variety of reasons others don’t. As Jesus is showing us the realm of God he is showing us the realm of God as it appears in our everyday, real lives. How is that?
Well, s___t happens. And whenever, s__t happens, I want to discount it, downplay it as somehow not real in my life. I am really alive only through the good bits. When I am downhearted, disappointed, perhaps when an illness overcomes me or a loved one dies I want to think that this is not what life is really all about -- that the universe/God is choosing not to smile on me. My life becomes divided -- good and bad -- right and wrong -- and I end up liking some of my life, but not all of it. But, when we look at the whole of our lives this just does not work. What we get in life is all the joy...and all the sorrow. Guaranteed.
What this parable, this teaching story of Jesus, suggests to me is that I can make friends with my life. In the course of things there will be outcomes that will be disappointing; my heart will be broken, dreams squashed. AND then quite the opposite. In the course of life, I will know joy in my relationships, I will see the beauty of the sun setting over the Sonoma coast. All this is quite ordinary, to be expected, just as some of seeds perish and others grow. Rather than 1, 2, 3, miracle, life is like this: 1, 2, 3, 4. Sometimes like this, other times like that. No need even to compare. I can be friends with it all. And as I discover this kinship with what is, something far more wonderful than good and bad, right or wrong reveals itself.