What is the soil like?
Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2008 4:22 pm
The Messenger. 07.24.08 Written by members of the Obion County Ministerial Association “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious. If it were so, it were a grievous fault and grievously hath Caesar answered it.” So begins the famous Funeral Oration by Marc Antony in The Bard’s play “Julius Caesar.” Let me restate or paraphrase this a bit. “Friends, church attendants, Christians, lend me your ears. I come to share Christ with you, not to perform for you. The deeds people do live after them. The words they say and promises they make are often dissipated. So, in truth, it is with us.” Jesus says in so many words in today’s gospel story. He begins with “Listen!” or “Lend me your ears.” He remarks on the responsibility of listening. We today “hear” but what does it matter? We get to church upon occasion; we hear the music swell and rise; we hear the scriptures read, hear the prayers offered, but what of it? We give some ear to the preacher, and a nod to some truth or other in the sermon, but it just doesn’t apply to ME. Maybe it applies to THEE, but not me. Sometimes we get upset at the preacher because the sermon is not interesting today, or not entertaining, or the truths might bite a bit if we were to listen. But basically, it seems, what goes in one ear, tends to go right out the other. Most people have the ability to experience sound, but the ability to “hear” that is, to “listen,” is not seen as our responsibility. I recall my mother saying to me, “I know you can hear me, young man, but are you listening?” Along comes Jesus and the parable of the soils in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 13, verses 1-9 and 18-23. According to our Lord, the soils have the power to bring the seeds to life and to fruition. So, He says, it is the way with a hearer of the gospel. The hearer has the power to quash and destroy the effectiveness of the gospel message or to bring it to fruition as much as a hundred times over. Hearing is an act of the will. The messenger of the king is obligated to cry out and be heard, to get our attention and to pass on the news or decrees. But the citizen to whom the king’s message comes is obligated to listen, process and respond to the message, else it is not heard, and the citizen loses out on the decrees of the king. Not listening to the decree may cause the citizen to run afoul of the law of the land and suffer the consequences of failure to respond. Like the hearing of the king’s decree, unless the hearing of the gospel is taken inwardly, and is translated into action, it can be as awful as if a cure for the worst disease in human history were to be discovered, and by laziness or selfishness or other reason never shared nor made known. Jesus and his tale of the soils does not suggest, I believe, that some people are constitutionally incapable of hearing the good news. He says plainly, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” I suspect this says that everyone who is willing and open to the gospel can hear it and hear it very well. Continuing the soils analogy, some have “well-plowed hearing,” and can be and will be sensitive to the message of Christ. Some have become callous to the words of Christ, whether through personal laziness to hear, an unwillingness to risk the perceived social danger of making a change or because the disasters in their life have hardened them to spiritual hearing and believing. Some are shallow listeners. There is no depth of religion to them. They may have a soft sentimentality to their religion, hearing an old song, a poem or story and tearing up with memories, but change and growth just doesn’t last in them. Then there are those who have gifts and talents and skills, but who are so full of themselves and their plans and wishes that like Sir Lancelot in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s epic poem “Idyls of the King,” they consecrate and concentrate themselves so on the performances of duty to their personal gratification and to the praise of others, or to the acquisition of fame, fortune or pleasure, that they find the ultimate root of their own sin well within themselves choking out the true holiness and worship which comes with listening, learning, loving and true living. Jesus indicates in the gospel parable of the sower, seed and soil that the seed which the sower has sown is partly within the power of the soils. The parable, I believe, indicates that the living power of the gospel is partly in the “Power of the Pew.” This, therefore, begs the question, “What kind of soil am I, and what kind are you?” This is one time the “soil” may be able to take steps to change. Rev. Donald E. Brooks Rector, St. James Episcopal Church 422 East Church St., Union City