“Shallow”. Tuesday Meditation. 05-19-20. Alan Neale.
Trinity Church, Newport RI
Mark 4: 10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”
13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17 But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.
Yesterday Jesus related the parable of the Sower, today we hear His interpretation which is as much based on divine knowledge as it is on human experience. I believe the Bible/Scripture to be a powerful and transforming force in the life of functional Christians and Churches but poor, benighted, bigoted interpretation has led to much suffering. Would that we be more earnest in asking the Spirit to help us read Scripture as Jesus read it himself.
But back to Mark. When he is alone, the disciples approach Jesus and ask him for an explanation. The Greek word for asked suggests an earnest request, and a request based upon some preferential relationship. Maybe “alone” because they felt some embarrassment, maybe “alone” because they did not want to be distracted. St. James (1:5) writes that if anyone lacks wisdom, let him/her ask of God who will respond liberally without blame. Years ago I heard the wisdom of these three crucial statements “I can’t do this. I don’t know. Please Can you help me?”. We do well to follow the example of the disciples and acknowledge our need/deficiency and seek help from the Lord and his “ministering angels”.
When Jesus speaks of mysteries, he speaks not of unanswerable, unknowable engimas but rather of truths so deep that a revelation is required that they may be understood. Here again we are told of our proper and constant dependence upon God both to apprehend and comprehend eternal truths.
In verse 15 Jesus speaks of the word sown on the path; one of the many byways, lanes and walkways made hard by the trampling of feet over periods of years. Here the ground is stubborn, obstinate, resistant and cannot give harbor for growth or change of any kind. Both Matthew and Luke record this parable but Matthew adds an insight into the “seed on the path”; Matthew writes that here the problem is lack of understanding, a lack of willingness to draw things to a conclusion with a view to change.
In verses 16 and 17, the seed is cast on rocky ground where there is some soil but of little depth and substance. Here there is an immediate response of enthusiasm but it is not sustained and becomes subject to “falling away”; the slightest test of life or challenge of mind presents an insurmountable stumbling block that causes the enthusiast to fail, fade away, surrender.
To be “shallow” in life or thought or word deprives us of our humanity and destines us to be less than complete. To be “profound, deep, reflective” enhances our humanity and opens us to growth and change. God save us from leaders in church or nation who are marked lack of depth.
As I said yesterday, I note with a sense of joy and relief that it is not to sower’s task to prepare the ground, to assess the soil but it is simply her/his task to sow the Word. 2 Timothy 4:2 “Be ready to spread the word whether or not the time is right.” Our lives, our words are constant opportunities to spread the Good News of God’s Kingdom come so close in our lives… “be ready”. As one wit once quipped, “Christians are not to be like the St. Lawrence River – frozen at the mouth”.
Over the years I have come to realize that these soils (of the path, of the rocky ground) are not only discrete, distinct in themselves but may also refer to different stages of the individual soul. I recognize times when through anger, resentment or fear I have presented little opportunity for the word to rest; I recognize times when a sudden enthusiasm has not been established in prayer, understanding and commitment and so has been lost as quickly as it was gained.
Friends, we are only a spiritual journey and we pass through many phases; returning to them often and, generally, without expectation.
Our hope is that the Almighty Lord will continue to do His/Her work of caring for the seed and for the souls of each us. So may we care for others and ourselves.