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The Parable of The Sower Vs. Terrorism

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The Parable of The Sower Vs. Terrorism  

On the morning of Thursday, 7 July 2005, London reaped a bitter, bloody harvest - a harvest of destruction and death. On crowded tube train and bus, bombs were planted by evil, fanatical, ideologically-obsessed terrorists. Poisonous, death-dealing seeds were sown, that issued forth, not in an explosion of colour and fruitfulness, but in an explosion of mayhem and carnage. Note my use of language - 'reaped' - 'harvest' - 'planted' - 'seeds' - 'sown'. Words such as 'reaped' and 'harvest' normally conjure up a sense of fulfilment, fullness of life, ripened fruitfulness. What I have done is give these wholesome words an obscene twist by associating them with waste, with promise brutally cut short, with malignant blight. Words such as 'seeds', 'planted' and 'sown' normally suggest creativity, the work of one who creates and nurtures.  

What I have done is to give a grotesque gloss to these words by associating them with demolition, with the work of one who destroys indiscriminately. Even the word 'indiscriminately' reminds me of hearing a senior Metropolitan Police office on television using the word 'indiscriminate' to describe the targeting of London by the terrorists. Those minions of hell who committed this atrocity were indiscriminate in that they did not differentiate between young and old, rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, Hindu and Jew. Yet, when I call to mind the ways of God, this word indiscriminate often filters into my consciousness. God, indiscriminate in his generosity, goodness and mercy. God, indiscriminately lavishing his love with reckless abandon on one and all, be they rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, be they saint or rogue, Christian or Muslim, believer or atheist. 

Indeed the work 'indiscriminate' takes us to the heart and core of the Parable of the Sower, as indeed do the words 'reaped', 'harvest', 'planted', 'seeds' and 'sown'. According to the parable, the sower throws caution to the winds, scatters the seed wildly and with total abandon, all over the place, even in the most uncompromising and unreceptive spots. It falls on exposed soil - and therefore is vulnerable to marauding birds, on shallow, rocky soil, on thorn-choked soil and, almost by accident, on rich soil,. And even here the yield - thirty, sixty, a hundred-fold - is uneven to say the least. 

Yet, there is something wildly exhilarating about a God who is not fazed by apparent success or failure. A God who does not know when to stop. A God who is outrageously generous and recklessly extravagant. A God who is not stingy with the seed but flings it out everywhere, on good soil and bad, wasting it with holy abandon. A God who seems willing to keep reaching into his seed-bag for all eternity, covering the whole of creation with the fertile seed of his truth and love and mercy. This is surely nothing less than amazing grace. 

Any manager of any modern business, steeped in frugal, thrifty, cheeseparing ways, would be shaking their head, not only at the crass inefficiency and sloppiness of the sower's efforts, but at the whole issue of extravagance and waste underlying the parable - a parable so true to life. So much spent energy, so little return. Life can be a tale of countless things wasted, people wasted, lives wasted, good deeds wasted, honourable intentions wasted. This is why the parable and the experience of the sower resonate with us.  

We sow what seems to be a perfect marriage and sprout divorce instead. We plant a day's honest work and are 'downsized'. We cultivate decency and virtue, and the so-called life-styles touted by some celebrities choke our hopes and aspirations for those nearest and dearest to us. We freely toss out the seeds of teaching and instruction and they seem to fall on shallow ground. We breed a faith that seems to have deep roots and firm foundations, and we wind up with non-practising children., and so on. Like the sower in Jesus' parable, we may have liberally and extravagantly sown the seeds of faith, hope and love, justice, mercy and peace. So often though, we find that the weeds of cynicism, prejudice, hatred, extremism and hard-boiled secularism have been on the rampage, and all but throttled the life out of our tender shoots.  

How then, do we handle this mystery of disappointment, setback, waste and loss that seems to be such an integral part of our lives ? Here is a true story…. 

A number of years ago a baby boy was born in an American hospital. The baby was blind, mentally retarded, and had cerebral palsy. He was little more than a vegetable who did not respond to sound or touch. His parents had abandoned him. The hospital did not know what to do with the baby. Then someone remembered Mary Lemke, a fifty-two year old nurse who lived nearby. She had raised five children of her own. She would know how to care for such a baby. They asked Mary to take the infant, saying, 'He will probably die young'. Mary responded, 'if I take the baby, he will not die young: I will be happy to take him.'  

Mary called the baby Leslie. It was not easy to care for him. Every day she massaged the baby's entire body, She prayed over him, she cried over him, she placed his hands in her tears. One day someone said to her, 'Why do you not put that child in an institution ? You are wasting your life.' As Leslie grew, so did Mary's problems, She had to keep him tied to a chair to keep him from falling over.  

The years passed : Five, ten, and fifteen passed by. It was not until Leslie was sixteen years old that Mary was able to teach him to stand alone. All this time he did not respond to her. However, all this time Mary wastefully, so to speak, continued to love him and pray over him. 

Then one day, Mary noticed Leslie's finger plucking a taut string on a package. She wondered what this meant. Was it possible that Leslie was sensitive to music ? Mary began to surround Leslie with music. She played every type of music imaginable, hoping that one type might appeal to him. Eventually Mary and her husband bought an old second-hand piano. They put it in Leslie's bedroom. Mary took Leslie's fingers in hers and showed him how to push the keys down, but he did not seem to understand. 

Then one winter night, Mary awoke to someone playing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. She shook her husband, woke him up, and asked him if he had left the radio on. He said he did not think so, but they had better check. What they discovered was beyond their wildest dreams. 

Leslie was at the piano. He was smiling and playing it by ear. It was too remarkable to be true. Leslie had never got out of bed before. He had never seated himself at the piano before. He had never struck a piano key on his own. Now he was playing beautifully. Mary dropped to her knees and said 'Thank you, dear God, You did not forget Leslie.' Soon Leslie began to live at the piano. He played classical, country, western, ragtime, gospel, and even rock. It was absolutely incredible. All the music Mary had played to him was stored in his brain, and was now flowing out through his hands into the piano. 

Doctors describe Leslie as an autistic savant, a person who is mentally retarded from brain damage, but extremely talented. They cannot even begin to explain this unusual phenomenon, although they have known about it for nearly 200 years. 

Leslie's astonishing story, however, replicates the truth of our parable. Remember Mary Lemke extravagantly sowed and sowed the seeds of her love and faith and her prayers and her tears - with no visible return. It took sixteen years just to get mute Leslie to stand. However, in the end she witnessed a harvest, a miraculous harvest. Not, mark you a hundred-fold one, or even a sixty-fold harvest - Leslie, after all, is still mentally retarded - but a thirty-fold one of musical genius. 

Had Mary not persevered unrelentingly there would have been less beautiful music in the world, and God's splendour would have been hidden and God's miracle would have been withheld. This, I believe, is what the parable is teaching us. As God's sowers we are compelled to be unrelenting in our efforts to scatter seeds of faith, hope and love, justice, mercy and peace wherever we live and move and have our being. For, without us there would be less of God's splendour in the world. God has commissioned us to throw caution to the winds, to wildly and extravagantly sow his truth and mercy, justice and peace, even if much of our sowing winds up on exposed, rocky or prickly soil. 

As Christians we continue to live in irrepressible hope, continuing to sow profusely, thereby keeping God, the rumour of God, the things of God, the values of God, alive in the world. We continue to live in irrepressible hope because we believe we are somehow contributing to a harvest of unimaginable fruitfulness. We believe that the destroyers, the evil dealers in death and mayhem and destruction will not have the last word.  

One day there will be a harvest because of the seeds we and countless others have sown. Therefore, we continue to play music for the spiritually and morally damaged and deranged, in the irrepressible hope that a concerto might emerge some day. We may not be around to hear it, but the sound of the world will no longer be the strident cacophony of ambulance sirens mingled with the screams and groans of the wounded and dying. Rather, the sound of the world will be music, music that is touched with Fire Divine, music that echoes the splendid harmonies of heaven.  

Rev Tom Cuthell, 2005


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