This is a transcript from a video released in February 2020.
Thanks to Heather Lee for the transcription and JP Marceau for the edition.
The parable of the sower is one of Christ’s most known parables. Everybody has heard that story. There’s something very interesting about this parable: it is, in a way, a meta parable. It is not only a parable that talks about a specific example from everyday life, it is a parable which can help you understand parables themselves and meaning-making in general. Basically, the parable of the sower, just like so many other things that Christ says, hides within itself the very pattern of how reality unfolds. That’s why, in this post, we’re going to look at the Parable of the Sower and see if we can bring out some of the fundamental aspects of symbolism and how we encounter the world.
Now, the Parable of the Sower is in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, and I’ve chosen to use the version in the Gospel of St. Mark (Mark 4:1-25) because there’s a little detail in that version that I want to emphasize specifically. So, I’m going to read the text to you, and then we are going to go over some of the elements that Christ talks about, and I’m going to try to show you how the parable can be applied to our very perception of reality, and how it is, in a way, very much a meta parable.
1 And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. 2 Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:
3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. 5 Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. 7 And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
9 And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that
‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’
13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. 16 These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble. 18 Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20 But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
Now, there is a lot to unpack in this parable. Christ is basically painting a cosmic image of how the world works. But the first thing we need to pay attention to is a little detail which is actually only in this version of the parable. It is how Christ tells His disciples: “Do you not understand this parable? How then, will you understand all the parables?” And this is the little key that I wanted to point you to. Christ is saying that this parable is, in a way, a meta parable. It is a parable about parables. Well, it’s not just about parables, but it’s a parable about meaning making itself. Meaning making, not just in an abstract way, but in the sense of how abstract things, how ideas, concepts, essences, etc., all incarnate in the world. And Christ uses a human person as the anchor for his example and it is, of course, the best way to talk about it. He’s talking at the level of the human person hearing something, with his heart acting as the place where meaning and possibility meet – how Heaven and Earth meet in the person’s heart – and, as that happens, we see whether or not this seed which falls into the ground will give fruit.
Now, when you hear about seed, it’s very important to understand the relationship between seed and Heaven. First of all, seeds fall from above and they fall onto the ground. Not only that, but seeds are also the pattern of a tree. If you look at a seed, you just have this little dot. But in the little dot is contained the pattern of the tree. It’s an image of a bodiless principle. Of course, a seed has physical body, but it has so little body that it becomes an image of this point, this center, the essence of something. So every time you read about a seed in the Scripture, especially in Christ’s explanations, that’s what it means: something which hasn’t yet born fruit, which is contained, which is just the idea, or just the concept, or just the center without the margin, without the laying out of everything else.
So, the heart itself is the place (the heart itself can also be the seed, but the heart is usually the throne or the place) where the seed will hit. The heart thus becomes like the Arc of the Covenant. Recall the glory of God coming down and landing on the Arc, and then the glory of God shining out into the world. It’s important to understand this relationship, because if you look right after this parable, Christ uses the image of the light which should not be hidden under a bushel, which should not be hidden under a bucket, but should shine forth into the world. By adding this image after the parable of the seed, which is in the ground, He’s connecting those two together. The light coming out, the idea of the glory which comes down on the Arc and then shines down on the world, the seed which falls to the ground and then produces fruit, all of these are images of the same thing.
So, we have to look at the different examples that Christ gives to help us see the possibilities of this relationship. That is, when there is something abstract and there is a body or there is something underneath which is going to be the potential out of which this abstract thing is taking its capacity to exist in the world, what are the possibilities of connection between these two?
He talks, first of all, of the sower who went out to sow. You can understand that at different levels of reality. You can understand it, of course, ultimately as God spreading out the essences of things; that’s God speaking the world into existence. He’s spreading the seeds out over the ground. Now, go back into Genesis — think of God speaking the world into existence. These words that come out of God’s mouth are these essences, the names of things. And so, a seed can be related to a name. That is, it contains within itself the pointing to something – that which gathers all these potentialities into one thing. If I point to a chair and I say “chair”, that is manifesting the unity of the thing I’m pointing to; the essences that are coming down. You see that, as I said, in Genesis when God creates the world. That is what is related to the sower that is spreading out the seed; spreading out the logi; spreading out the essences.
Some of the seeds fall by the wayside. You have to understand that they fall on the side of a path and the birds of the air come and devour them. Now, Christ, in His example, says that this is someone to whom the Word comes, but when they hear it Satan immediately comes and takes the Word that’s sewn in their heart away. There’s no room for it. There’s no place for it. Of course, the idea that it falls by the wayside, in practice, makes sense. If you put seeds by the wayside, because the Earth is already completely tamped down and because it is being used as a path, then there’s no place for the roots to take shape. But that is also part of its meaning, which is that, when there’s already a path, when there’s already a meaning, it is extremely difficult to sow a seed.
Now, of course, everything that I’m saying doesn’t take away from the personal aspect of this parable, and I think it’s very important to insist on that. Of course, this does refer to hearing the good Word of God about your life and acting on it – of course it refers to that – but it can also refer to anything. For example, say you’re going to the store to get some milk and that’s your purpose. Then, as you’re going there, someone calls you on the phone and says, “Would you come over and do this?”, but you already are on a path, you are already doing something. I’m using that as an example, but it could be anything. It could be that you’re working on your computer, and your child comes to you and says, “Dad, can you come and do this for me?”. But you’re on a path. You already have a logos. You already have a meaning. You already have a direction. And so, there’s no room for that idea to come and take root, because you’re already doing something. In order for you to be able to attend to this new seed which is coming down upon you, you have to plow your earth; you would have to deconstruct and break down what you are doing in order to be able to reorient your attention towards what is coming – this new seed, this new idea. So, you can see that in all kinds of ways. There are some ideas that just cannot take root in certain societies, for example, because they already have a way of doing things and a way of being. There just isn’t any room for these new ideas to take shape because they don’t fit into the path. It’s neither good nor bad in itself; sometimes it can be good, sometimes it can be bad. But mostly, it’s the fact that if there’s already a path, there’s no room for new ideas on that path.
The bird comes down, and in this case the bird is Satan, who picks up the seed and carries it up. What is that referring to? Obviously, we can understand it in our personal lives, but how can we understand it in terms of a pattern applicable to many other things? Here you have to understand Satan as a kind of dark principality. Understand it as a principality that is above you, but in this case is negative, and is preventing the seed from landing in the ground. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be dark. In the Old Testament or in the Bible, in a lot of stories, usually the birds are these principalities that come down. Sometimes the birds are the principalities that sing in the trees. You understand it as the pattern; the music of the spheres, for example. There, you have this image of the birds up in the trees that are singing and are manifesting the patterns to us. But you can also have the idea of the bird that comes down as a raptor and picks things up. And then the principalities appear more negatively, as something which will separate Heaven and Earth. And here in this case is an example where the principality will come and pick up the idea and prevent it from manifesting itself in the world.
Now, I can give you a really stupid example of this happening: flying cars. The idea of flying cars has been around for a hundred years. The idea is there – it’s always there. But because of the way that the world is set up, that principality is not landing. It’s constantly being picked up and held up in the invisible sphere. It still exists as this imaginary idea; it exists as this imaginary thing, but it’s never landing in the world and finding body. There are plenty of ideas like that which actually can’t land. And some of them shouldn’t land. For example, the whole notion of a utopia is a problem of ideals that are so high that, in a way, they shouldn’t actually land in the ground because they would create monsters.
Like I said, by itself, a principle getting help up is neither negative nor positive: there are some principles that get held up high so they don’t land. And they’re held up by the fact that they’re more on the side of the principality and don’t actually have room for body. But that can also be negative. It can be that a dark principality is holding onto something, that there’s a dark purpose for our society, that we’re held by demons, for example. Or say that you’re held by the passion of hunger. Then a good idea, a good discipline, something that could help you get out of this principality, is going to struggle to land in your world. And Satan – the opposer, the divider – is going to pick that up and try to keep it up in the fantasy world; keep it up into the ideas. So, you can keep dreaming about the day that you’re going to diet, or the day that you’re going develop this discipline, but Satan is constantly picking it up and not letting it land into your actual body.
The second example that Christ gives is the seed which falls on stony ground and doesn’t have much earth. This seed will grow up really quickly, but then as soon as the sun rises, the sun will scorch the plants and then they will wither. Now, of course, everybody can imagine this type of experience. We’ve all had this experience where you make a New Year’s resolution, and you’re like, “Yeah, I’m gonna do this!” and within a few weeks, it’s gone because you already had so many things to do. It’s related to the idea of being on the path; it’s a little bit off the path, you could say. But you already have all these meanings in your life; all these things that are good or bad; just so many purposes, you could say, that trying to change or add something might flower up really quickly, but then go away.
One extremely good example that we see all the time now – our whole world seems to be made out of this stony ground with shallow earth – is, of course, fashion. Fashion is exactly this. An idea drops in, and, for a year, everybody is wearing whatever. You know those super-tight pants that everybody was wearing with baggy bottoms? You know when you see it that this is an extreme idea that’s very shallow; that isn’t anchored profoundly into even our long fashion tradition in the West. It lands and then you know that it’s going to last for a season and then it’ll be gone, because it’s very shallow. It’s an extreme growth, but it’s very shallow. Fashion is probably the best way to understand that. The same thing happens with extreme musical fashions; all of these things that come and then they’re gone – flash in the pan. They disappear, because they are not anchored profoundly in our culture. A very strong version of this was in all of the extreme fad diets that came around and are still kind of coming around. They just come and go; they appear and then disappear because they are too different from the usual purpose.
And so, the idea of the sun coming up and shining down on the plants and scorching them – that is the deeper pattern. Whatever that deeper pattern is, as soon as it appears, it will wither up the superficial pattern that’s appearing just on the surface. And so, for example, I was talking about fashion. There are some deeper patterns which seem to have set themselves up in our society; the idea of wearing a suit and a tie, let’s say. And then, all of a sudden, some extreme thing appears; wearing really, really, really gaudy ties, or really, really thin ties, or really, really thick ties. So, when you see those appear, you’ll know that, when the deeper pattern starts to shine again, that extreme version of it – that kind of peripheral, superficial excess of it – is just going to vanish and the pattern is going to end up being more regular. The suit and tie are going to continue, and the extreme versions which appear on a very shallow level are going to vanish under the weight of the basic pattern. That is just an example to understand it, but like I said, there are plenty of examples in all areas of your life where this type of behavior will appear. You need to be attentive to it.
Now, the third example is the story of the thorns. Here, the idea is that the seed is planted, but that thorny bushes come out and choke out the plant that’s growing. And Christ talks about how these are the distractions of the world; our passions, the desire for riches. So here, instead of having this idea of a dark principality that will pull up and prevent the seed from incarnating, you now have this encroachment of things from the outside that are devouring and taking up so much room that they’re preventing the body from actually taking shape. Everyone has had that experience of being distracted by all kinds of things. You have a discipline, there’s something you want to bring down into your life, but you end up just playing video games or watching movies or whatever it is. Certain distractions from the outside suck up your strength, suck up your potential, and prevent the seeds from growing. And, of course, the thorns are the perfect example.
If you look at this whole image, it’s very fascinating, because there’s actually a powerful hierarchy to the way that Christ describes the different examples. I always tell you about how the basic hierarchy of the Garden of Eden is not necessarily positive or negative; it’s just the structure of reality. And here, Christ describes this reality. He starts by describing this idea of a path which could be understood as also a mountain – like a purpose, or a reason. He has this idea of a path and a purpose, a road. Then, He also talks about stony ground, or a stone, which is above the ground. So, you have this idea of the mountain as a path or a purpose, and then also the idea of something which is a little higher up, like a stony ground that’s not completely down. Then He goes to the thorns which are, in the story of the Garden of Eden, on the outside, and are just the passions and the distractions and the opposition from the outside. And so, He’s actually tracing the same image as you find in the Garden, and it’s interesting because, in this version, it’s neither good nor bad. That is, if your mountain is a bad mountain then you won’t be able to have this renewal of a new plant in newly plowed ground. And then He talks about the negative aspects of the path; the negative aspect of being a little higher up on the stones, and then the negative aspect of the thorns on the outside. So, He talks about the negative aspects of all these things, and He finally talks about the good earth. And the good earth is the one in which all of the negative principalities – all of the negative things – have been plowed and broken down, and so you are in a kind of virginal state where you are ready to receive this new seed and bear new fruit. Baptism is an example of this process of breaking down all the negative principalities; all the negative patterns in your life, in order to be ready to start again and have a new pattern, let’s say.
Now, there’s another very fascinating aspect of this parable, which is that Christ says that this is really the parable of parables. And He links it to His disciples themselves. What He’s suggesting is that His disciples are the ones who have been plowed already. They have been baptized, they have been following Christ, and so they are the ones who are this good earth. And that’s why Christ says “If you have the ears to hear. If you have the eyes to see.” That is, if you are capable – if you are prepared to see these patterns – then you will be able to see them. But if you’re not, then you will be closed off. You will be kept on the outside. And so, He’s applying the parable to His disciples. The fact that Christ then secretly tells them the meaning of the parable is the parable itself. These are interrelated. He’s trying to explain how the work of preparing the soil is something that the disciples have encountered, and so now they are capable of hearing the true meaning of the parable. Thus, the fact that Christ explains the parable only to His disciples is actually part of the parable.
In other words, He’s saying “You who have been prepared – you, my disciples – you who have entered into the heart, have entered into the mystery, are now capable of perceiving the meaning of the parable. You are able to perceive the patterns in something which, to people on the outside, appears to be just a story that doesn’t have any profound meaning.” I know that some of you who have followed my videos for a long time have experienced that as well. And I know that I’ve experienced the same thing, which is that, before we develop a capacity to perceive the patterns, certain stories just go right over our heads. We watch a movie, we read a Gospel story, and we just see what’s on the surface. Once we start to engage with the world and prepare our hearts, and try to break down the propaganda patterns or the very superficial materialist, atheistic patterns that, sadly, we’ve received as children, then all of a sudden, we can see the light shine through the stories. We can see the light shine through the parables on all of reality.
And ultimately, it’s fascinating because, after the Parable of the Sower, Christ talks about how “You are the light of the world and you have to shine in the darkness.” It’s fascinating because, right before that, He talks about how those on the outside will not understand. It’s only those on the inside that will understand, only those that have been prepared. So, it actually looks like a contradiction. Right after He says that those on the outside will be cut off, He says: “To those who have more, more will be given. To those who have little, it will be taken away from them.” There’s this idea that the outside is cut off because it’s not prepared; because it’s not in the heart of the mystery, it can’t receive the patterns. But then He says you have to shine out in the darkness. You really have to put those two realities together in order to understand Christ’s full message. It’s often the case that if you just take one aspect of what Christ says, you miss out on the bigger patterns. He tends to talk in aporia. He tends to say something, and then say almost the exact opposite just a few verses later. The greatest classical example is when He tells Saint Peter: “You are Peter, and on this stone I’m going to build my church,” and just one or two verses later, he says to Saint Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” So, you really have to see Christ’s message in its ensemble, or else you’re going to miss out.
You know when I talk about the left hand and the right hand – this pattern of bringing into the center, and then of moving out toward the periphery. This is what Christ is doing here. He is on the one hand gathering His disciples into the heart. He is gathering His disciples into the mystery. Imagine the glory of God coming down on the Arc of the Covenant. Once that’s happened, then we have the radiation out towards the outside. It’s like he’s saying “I am gathering you into this mystery. I’m going to give you the secret – the pattern of reality. But then, once that’s happened, then you will radiate out to the outside.” And thus, he is tracing, once again, the very pattern of reality; of the glory coming down on the temple, and then the temple acting as a beacon for the world. The presence of God coming down into the altar of the church, into the chalice of Communion, and then the communicants taking this highest mystery, and going out into the world and remembering God and being lights in the world outside. So, Christ is always, always tracing the pattern of reality. When you’re reading the Scripture, always remember that. Our perception of Scripture has been so ruined that we always need to remind ourselves that every time Christ says something, He is speaking at the level of the One who created the world. If you expect anything less of Christ, you’re going to miss out on the things that He’s saying. And even as I’m trying to understand this and explain this, I know that I’m missing out on a huge aspect of what the Scripture contains. You know, in two months, I’m going to read this passage again, and then some lights are going to turn on and I’m going to realize how much I missed in all of these condensed phrases that Christ uses.
To conclude, I hope this has been useful to help you understand the power that is contained in everything that Christ says, and hopefully it will give you some food for thought. And I will get back to you very soon with a new video/article.