Week 1: Prey

February 28, 2017 in Lent 2017: Week 1

I grew up between two homes and two parishes. My parents lived in Dublin and my godparents in Wicklow. So, over the years, I would have heard this parable in the city, where it was proclaimed by a D-Day veteran who had buried seventy soldiers in one day, both Allied and Axis; and I would have heard it in the country too, where it was recited by Fr. Jimmy, a priest who sometimes took me for a ride on the Ghost Train in the Bray Amusements. One thing I know for certain, although being certain is probably a bad habit. Whatever about the shopkeepers in Donnybrook, the farmers in Kilquade regarded the sower in this story as a very poor agriculturalist. His way of sowing seed is not at all seminal; instead, it is plain weird and pretty wasteful. Even in primitive Palestine, there were such things as ploughshares and furrows. Perhaps Jesus knew more about carpentry than about cereals. I am just saying that, for starters.

Also, I hate what happens later in this chapter. The story itself takes six verses, and seven if you include “Whoever has ears, let him hear”, because, when I was an altar-boy, I thought “ears” was a reference to ears of wheat or maybe maize. But the explanation of the story then takes at least three times as long. It goes on for about twelve verses of forensic post mortem. Interpretation, which is often self-important, is like that, which is why my teachers always told me to read the original text and not the scholarly commentaries. All the great philosophers are more intelligible than their exegetes, and so is Our Lord, even if he never wrote a word in his life, except in sand. In fact, for Christians, the original texts are the commentaries. We largely forget this, if we don’t ignore it all together.

The final solution, so to speak, of all the signs in the story of the sower and the seed, turning analogy into allegory and allegory into system, is not Jesus talking. It is only one of the moral theologians in his entourage who studies scripture like a Bingo card, blackening the bits he recognises. They turn mystery into the mathematics of double-book keeping and poetry into propositions. For them the image is only the foetus of a full-grown idea; and, because the image is always elusive, and therefore agnostic, they are Gnostics to a fault. They know more; they know better; they know best; they know all. Be warned and beware.