|(Salzburg in Germany-Austria Border) How can a soil where the"hills are alive with the sound of music" and culture so rich and stunning that produced a Mozart likewise produced a Hitler? No human society is immune to human depravity.|
|Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, most brilliant and prolific composer of classical music born in Salzburg, Germany on January 27, 1756 and performed mostly in Vienna, Austria.|
|The "killing fields" during the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia is one of the horrors of modern history.|
PARABLE OF THE SOWER & THE HUMAN CONDITION (Luke 8:1-15)
(Sermon delivered by The Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara at the Chapel of Christ the Lord, Manhattan, New York. 10.12.2012)
“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 ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.’
A parable is like a fable in that it uses visible objects to illustrate invisible ones. Or like a metaphor, it is a figure of speech that uses concrete and perceptible phenomena to illuminate an abstract and imperceptible reality. As our Sunday School defines it, “a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” The task of preaching is how to bring heaven’s thoughts down to earth. For the human preacher, it is quite an incarnational task.
I remember my first sermon when I was just fresh-off-the seminary. It was an English service in a Philippine Church but I believe I was speaking “Greek.” I mean, I spoke in the language that my people could not understand. I spoke in systematic theological terms I learned from John Macquarie, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Otto, Rudolph Bultmann, Jürgen Moltmann and all those big names in seminary. I was using such terms as “mysterium tremendum,” “eschatological expectation” and “transcendence” and “immanence.” My people were polite so they never said a word. But I was beginning to feel that many of them were beginning to fall asleep in their “ground of being” and some were already sinking in the “quagmire of existential vacuum.”I wonder if they ever learned but I think they were beginning to suspect that I just wanted to impress to them my erudition of theological language.
Another Sunday came and I got inspired from a Grade School book on Aesop’s fables. My theme was agape or God’s love and I chose the fable of the Sun and the Wind to illustrate my point. The Sun and the Wind had a contest on who of them was strong enough to remove the coat off a man walking on the road. The Wind blew hard and strong but it could not take the man’s coat because the harder it blew the more tightly the man held on to his coat. Then it was the turn of the Sun. It simply shone warmly; the man felt the heat and voluntarily took off his coat. Love is like the sun, I said. It does not force; it simply shines and waits for the result. As 1st Corinthians 13, says. “Love is patient and kind…it does not insist.” After the mass, a parishioner said to me, “Father, now I really understand your sermon.”
In this parable of the Sower, not only that Jesus described the soils in which the seed fell but he also endeavored to explain the meaning of the parable itself. The seed is the word of God and the soil is like a human heart. Heart number 1 is like a path soil: the word came to it but the devil snatched it away. Heart number 2 is like a rock: the word came and it lifted the heart with joy but because it was not rooted and grounded, it died a natural death; Heart number 3 is the soil with thorns and weeds; it heard the word but was choked by the cares and worries, the stresses and strains of this life; Heart number 4 is the good soil: it heard the word and kept it and with patience and perseverance, it produced good fruit.
It is indeed amazing that Jesus whose prayer is “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” would endeavor to illustrate His kingdom which is “not of this world” in the language that is “in this world.” In another context, he lamented the hardness of human heart when he said to Nicodemus about being born again. “ I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony…I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? “(John 3:11-12)
I recently had a vacation in Eastern Europe and visited Germany, Hungary and Austria. I was fascinated by the beauty of nature particularly in Salzburg and Vienna and the richness of their histories and cultures. But I was also intrigued by the thought that same culture that produced Mozart and Beethoven (and Maria Von Trapp of The Sound of Music) can also produce a Hitler. I shared this reflection with our Presiding Bishop she was quick to point out that the same culture that produced a “Cranmer and a Shakespeare also produced a Cromwell.” May I add, a “Bloody Mary” as well? And I’m not referring to the drink! (Queen Mary 1 of Tudor was the catholic Queen of England for five years, 1553-1558, but she had more than 300 persons burned at the stake for heresy, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.)
As an Asian, I also find it horrible to remember that the same Cambodia who produced Angkor Wat, the largest and most beautiful Hindu Temple in the world can also produce a murderous Pol Pot and the “killing fields.” As Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote, “No society is immune to depravity.”
My favorite seminary story is about an Old Testament professor who during final exam would only ask one question:”Who are the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah and what have they done?” His reputation for this habit spread from one generation of seminarians to another and so it became a temptation for this new class not to review any other Old Testament lessons but to only to memorize the kings of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But in that particular final exam, the professor had a change of mind. Instead of asking about the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, he asked, “Who are the major prophets and the minor prophets?” Naturally the seminarians were dumb-founded and many of them could not answer the question. But one smar-alec wrote in his paper. "Sir, who am I to determine the major and the Minor Prophets? Only God can do that. But as to the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, they are the following…”
As human beings, we can always wiggle out of the parables of Jesus. As the prophet Elijah said to the people of Israel, "How long will you go on limping between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." And in his zealousness for God, Elijah was tempted to perform a surgical operation, a show of power in Mount Carmel.1 Kings 18 tells the spectacular story of Elijah proving he was the Lord’s anointed and triumphing against all the false prophets of Baal. Then he let “none of them to escape,” slaughtering them in the Kishon River.
This kind of surgical approach, however, was not sanctioned by Yahweh who is not an “either or” but a “both and” God. (This makes me feel comfortable with the via media theology of Anglicanism). God is not all judgment; for if He is all judgment, then who can stand? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Sarah, Rachel and Rebecca and Mary, is God of both judgment and mercy. In Hosea 11, God said of the apostate Israel: “How can I give you up Ephraim? How can I hand you over Israel? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”
My favorite Asian theologian, the late Dr. Kosuke Koyama once wrote in an article, The Ritual of the Limping Dance (1980): “That is why we continue to limp because mortals continue to be mortals and God continues to be God.” If God executes his righteous indignation at the drop of a seed, then everyone of our knees shall turn into clay, for we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
That is why, we need to guard against a fundamentalism that reduces God to an “either or” God. It is easier to judge the condition of the human heart as static and unchanging than to understand that the same heart can also be dynamic and transforming. Who among the saints of old can claim to be only the “good soil,” of noble heart and good intentions? The Confession of St. Augustine tells us of our own struggle in the ritual of the limping dance.
We must guard against a fundamentalism that arrogates unto us the power that belongs to God alone. Righteousness exalts a nation but self-righteousness even in name of God can be a usurpation of God’s authority. A nation that exalts itself in self-righteousness will be tempted to do a surgical solution to another nation that it thinks an enemy of God. Not unlike the Elijah factor, it will be tempted to resort to “blanket bombing” so that no one escapes, or to release a nuclear show down to execute its judgment.
The “theology of the suffering God” tells us that God never gives up on us. Time and time again, He sent us the parable of the sower, planting seed after another, one prophet at a time, both major and minor ones. To teach us His ways and to call us to voluntary repentance and change. Then in the fullness of time, God sent His own Son, the ultimate Parable. The Jesus Parable came down from heaven and dwelt among us. Like the Sun, He shines into our hearts. The warmth of His love, the gentleness of His compassion and the power of His grace shall cause us to voluntarily remove our pretensions and surrender to His will and turn our “swords into ploughshares and our spears to pruning hooks.” Amen.