Short passages from the inspired scriptures are at first reading often skated over as simply details filling in the main outline of the point or story. And this is liable to go on during subsequent readings; with many readers, what they do not see at once, they never see at all.
The parable of the Sower is one of the best known, but though most modern Christians take the meaning to be rather obvious, it was this very parable which the disciples asked Jesus to explain to them. He reprimanded them for their dullness: ‘You do not understand this parable?’ he said, ‘then how will you understand any parable?’ The parable is found in three Gospels: Matthew 13.4, Mark 4.3 and Luke 8.5. The accounts are fairly close; let us look here just at the beginning: ‘A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the footpath, and the birds came and ate it up……’ and at the end: ‘And some of the seed fell into good soil, where it grew and bore fruit.’
As a matter of fact, there is a general question that needs to be asked, namely: What was this sower doing? He was throwing some seed on the wayside, and some on rocks as the story goes on to relate, and some among thistles. All this was waste of the seed, which could never grow there.
However, let us leave that point for the present purpose, and look at the seed that falls on the footpath and is eaten by some bird. Take this not as a riddle but as a teaching point, when compared with the seed that is received by the good soil. The bird eats the seed, which is converted into the bird itself. The potentiality of the seed is destroyed; in its place there is a slight increase in the vigour of the bird. Nothing new happens: the bird is simply slightly more bird.
The seed that is received by the earth, however, does not lose its potency. The earth does not convert it into more earth, but nourishes its hidden power. At the end there is the crop; the seed fulfils itself, putting out side shoots and becoming thirty-fold or more, and the earth has been indeed the good earth.
In a similar way, a spiritual truth may be taken up in two quite different ways: in one case, the knowledge and perhaps even practice serve the personality of the one who takes it to himself – the bird-man so to speak. He becomes a bit more himself, – more learned, or more impressive, or more famously humble, or more adored, or whatever it may be. He is simply a bit more of what he feels he is. The other, the earth-man or -woman so to say, receives the spiritual idea into himself or herself, where its truth begins to take root, then sprout, and finally appear above ground. There may be universal welcome for it, but the welcome is not for the person, but for the truth which now stands in its own glory, independent of that particular patch of earth as it were.
There are examples of the principle in things of the world. For instance, Helmholz, one of the most original of the 19th century scientists, remarked that it can happen that you get a quite new idea, which you have no time to go into for a year or so. You happen to mention it to a colleague as one of your future projects. He says nothing much, and you do not hear from him for over a year. Then to your surprise, you see that he has published a long paper on your idea, without acknowledgement, backed with the necessary research, which established a new Law called after him. If, in spite of your natural reaction, your main feeling is satisfaction that a new truth has been established, then you are a true scientist. If, however, you are obsessed with your justifiable resentment, you are not a scientist; you are something else.
1998 Trevor Leggett