The Book!

Friday, September 17, 2004

According to Luke

Imagine this scene. You have travelled all day, on a very hot day, on foot, to hear someone speak. Once a crowd has gathered, he appears. He clears his throat and says:

"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Then he steps down from the podium and disappears with a small group of close followers.

You want radical? I call that radical.

It is a parable explaining the point of parables generally: rhetoric about rhetoric. Parable, figurative language, poetry, is difficult to understand—if you do not have the ears. But if you can hear them, they are much more powerful than ordinary expositions; instead of passing one bit of knowledge on, they return a hundredfold. It is in this sense that Jesus says, soon after explaining the parable, “Take heed then how you hear, for to him who has more will be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” (Luke 8:18). This seems a paradox in another context, but it is true of figurative language, of “how you hear a parable.” If you get the gist wrong, it is nonsense. But if you get the gist, you get more and more out of it by further contemplation.

Jesus makes the point forcefully that figurative language is not obscure. It seems obscure to those who do not get it: but the point is not to conceal. As he says in his exposition, “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light.” (Luke 8: 16).

So let us meditate on this parable. One thing: if seeds are words, and words are meant to be multiplied a hundredfold, it is our task too to be rhetoricians. To spread the word.

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