Selective & Reflective Listening

“Hear then the parable of the sower.

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.

“The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.

“And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

“And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

 The parable of the sower and the various grounds – which does not address the idea of ‘accepting Jesus as your personal saviour’ but accepting the words of the kingdom. What is given is 4 examples of what selective listening is all about.

(1) Character: This person hears the words of the kingdom but not being able to truly find meaning in them – they did not ‘seek’ for understanding – it was basically just more ‘talk’ to them. Selectively they ignore it all and reflectively they do nothing…also Jesus mentions the ‘evil one’ – this person is likely bogged down in some level of law-breaking and see’s no need to hear something calling them out of that.

(2)  Contentent: The second person is very selective of the words of kingdom – wanting only to hear the ‘good things’ of the faith and those are what they will reflect on. It reminds me of someone that is always has to portray themselves as joyful – even to the point of faking it – or even those that will not look at the tough questions in the faith. This faith is all about joy and happiness and that’s it. These people reject the words of the kingdom when it comes to ideas of learning via suffering/mistakes, people dislike you, or standing up for justice in the face of hatred. It’s also one of the passages that addresses the idea of ‘peer pressure’.

(3) Kingdoms: The third person, for all intensive purposes of the 21st Century, is someone who has a love for money and things – ties the kingdoms together? The words of the kingdom are presented to them but they selectively want to filter that through their ‘greed’ and reflect upon how this can make them get ‘more’ of both kingdoms. The term used is ‘choked’ – they believe the idea of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of our world systems can be lined up – so this one takes a while to let go off. In the end, greed/selfishness win out and make the person ‘unfruitful’ – even if they are the best business person of all time. So what is the fruit?

(4) The Way: The last person listens to words and seeks to understand the depth they contain – so much so – they even find uses for them (action). They are not selective about the ideas presented but reflective about the ideas presented – knowing that to find out what they can mean – also means to study (understand them). These people produce fruit in various levels but nonetheless they are active in that process of producing. Again what is the fruit?

This parable is not about trying to determine who is part of this faith but who is adhering to words of God and what that means to them. A few questions though: (a) what is the ‘fruit’ in relation to hearing the word? Why in the 3 problems do we see issues of character, contentment, and money? Is the true lesson of this story about the selectivity of people of the faith to hear what we want? Is there words of God that you reflected on that have made your life more meaningful?

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5 thoughts on “Selective & Reflective Listening

  1. I’ll add maybe just a little slant:

    1) Goes through life not hearing, not seeing. They own evil inclination reigns supreme with no effort being made to keep it in check. That doesn’t mean the person is evil, nothing here says they are doing evil, but perhaps they’re just kind of pathetic, living a life totally lacking in compassion. Can they still do good in the world? Yes, but almost by default.

    2) It’s all about passion. Whether they’re joyful, whether they’re angry, the person is so passionate. But, since there’s nothing much behind, eventually all this passion burns out and they’re on to some other cause which will keep them occupied for about just as long as this first.

    2) This is the person who is always the match that gets things going. Is this all a bad thing? Perhaps not. Although they themselves will not commit to any one thing, they certainly can bring attention to many different causes.

    3) I’ll change this one just a bit, too. Most of aren’t wealthy so it’s easy to point fingers at them while letting us off the hook. Wealth comes in many forms. Maybe it’s the deceitfulness of intellect. Instead of using what we know for good, we use it to show how great we are in debating or how witty we can be as we cut each other down. Maybe its the deceitfulness of talent, maybe it’s the deceitfulness of a wealth of ideas, trying to mix and match too many things, instead of committing to one thing first, until finally the person gives up. It’s all too confusing. Surely it is all meaningless. The weeds have choked out what could have been a good crop.

    3) Weeds are in the eyes of the beholder. What one person sees as a field of weeds may be seen by another as a beautiful meadow filled with wildflowers! Kind of sad if someone comes along thinking this space needs to plowed under and re-seeded with something else when it reality is lovely just the way it is.

    4) Good soil is great, but good soil is also relative. What is good soil for one species is not necessarily good for another. Plants that need acidic soil will not thrive in alkaline soil, nor vice versa. Some plants need sunshine, some need shade, some need both. Some plants will thrive anywhere! Even the best of soils needs to be turned now and again. If it just sits there, after awhile it’s not so good anymore! It becomes compacted, root bound, depleted of minerals….

    4) Does the sower only throw out one kind of seed continually? Is the whole land sown with wheat, barley, lettuce, birdseed? Or does the sower consider the terrain ahead of time. Surely it is a foolish sower who thinks he will get a good crop by throwing the wrong seed on rocky soil! Is it the soils fault then for not producing some great crop? I wouldn’t think so!

    The fruit could be any number of things, it depends on the plant. Some plants bear tons of fruit, some plants give one gorgeous flower once in their lifetime and then die. Each has lived up to their purpose. Some plants provide nourishment, some just provide enjoyment. Some plants feed us, some cloth us, some make us work, some hold the world together for us. I wouldn’t want to live in a world of just one kind of plant.

    Maybe the traditional reading of this story is always that the words, the seeds are the same, and we should all therefore react the same to them. But, perhaps it’s more about diversity. How can we have meaningful lives even if we’re rocky, weedy, flighty, imperfect. How long does perfect soil last? Is there such a thing? How do we view the sower? Is the sower a mindless robot ever throwing the same seed in the same places expecting the same results, or is the sower the kind of farmer who knows the land and carefully plants to take advantage of all the terrain? Is the sower the type that allows for ‘green belts’ where the land is allowed to bring forth as it will? Is this an organic farm or one that uses synthetic fertilizer? Is this a huge farm or a small, carefully tended patch?

    So many things to think about with this story.

    Hey, you claim Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. Trust me that there are never just simple readings to rabbinic teachings. They always have numerous levels of meaning and are picked apart and discussed in ways you might never imagine.

  2. “nothing here says they are doing evil, but perhaps they’re just kind of pathetic, living a life totally lacking in compassion” (Yael)

    Good point…the sentence shows nothing about the person being ‘evil’ except that they lose what they have to the ‘evil one’. Maybe the point about apathy is as legit as seeing this as someone who refuses the good ideas for one’s not so good. Maybe even apathy is more legit – it is found in more than one parable.

    “Although they themselves will not commit to any one thing, they certainly can bring attention to many different causes” (Yael)

    This is true about someone who is merely passionate – these characteristics – sometimes which seem a little ‘flighty’. However, even passion, for it to be meaningful, has to find it’s depth also. I think of someone like Gandhi – very passionate about his people’s independence – not only rested on the laurels of the belief his ideas were moving – but they would also cause movement. I think passion is vital to belief – but passion alone will not show someone the idea is valid…it needs to find it’s depth in real workings. However, your point about passion being a ‘firestarter’ is true – someone needs to bring the idea to light.

    “Wealth comes in many forms” (Yael)

    Agreed. 2 things are mentioned point blank in this passage (a) worry/cares of the world and (b) deceitfulness of wealth. Wealth does take many forms (ideas, intellect, talent, or money) and all of them can be used for the cares of the world (or country) – which makes your point very valid.

    To me it seems the ideas are pointing to people using God’s words to make a hustle of some sort (to borrow from Malcolm X) – whether the person uses them to justify the various political posture/laws of the world (country) or forgoes that pattern to benefit from the wealth of said world/country – irregardless of the consequences of gaining wealth and how that may hurt their community. If the wealth is ideas it is related to how they manipulate the teachings; if it is related to money it is also the same process – but basically it comes down to 4 ideas and how they intersect – words of God, cares of the world, the deceit of wealth, and ‘choking the word’. It does seem to me that the process is thinking the words of God can work with ideas contrary to the good of all humanity.

    “Good soil is great, but good soil is also relative” (Yael)

    Agreed – soil is relative to the type of plant needed to grow there – but nonetheless – the soil needs to be sustainable for life (whichever the plant). I really like your point about how good soil needs to be taken care of in order to continue producing – maybe that point is good soil is a studious endeavor and not something someone can leave to it’s own devices? Or we need to work at it?

    “Does the sower only throw out one kind of seed continually?” (Yael)

    I love this point! I think it is part of what this parable needs in order for it to reach fruition. I think that’s why I say ‘the words of God’ (plural) since there are a variety of great ideas that need to be planted within the foundation of the land – not just one – but one + many more. Maybe a variety of seeds produce a variety of products and that is also the point?

    “Surely it is a foolish sower who thinks he will get a good crop by throwing the wrong seed on rocky soil!” (Yael)

    This idea has me thinking two-fold in responses. Firstly, true…we need to plant where seed will have a chance at growing – it seems foolish for a farmer to look at rocks and think any kind of crop will grow there. Secondly, that choice is not up to us – since the soil is based on the receptivity of the other – and this is not something we can truly gage at first glance. A casual throw/sharing/showing of the ideas is all we can do – maybe someone hears them and thinks ‘I can use that’ and another in ear-shot thinks ‘wow, what a moron’.

    “Some plants bear tons of fruit…(some) give one gorgeous flower once in their lifetime and then die. Each has lived up to their purpose. Some plants provide nourishment, some provide enjoyment. Some feed us, some cloth us, some make us work, some hold the world together for us” (Yael)

    Good overall point about the fruit – it’s quite the variety and for various purposes. But the fruit is useful in all cases and good for others (can be shared if we grow a crop). I think the fruit idea is about God’s words becoming something of use – not only for us but for all of our community – if we enact the ideas.

    “They always have numerous levels of meaning and are picked apart and discussed in ways you might never imagine” (Yael)

    And that’s why you have become invaluable to my learning curve. You bring in perspectives that get me thinking a little deeper and wider on issues – and make me aware of aspects I have not considered. Isn’t this the point of discussion?

  3. This is true about someone who is merely passionate – these characteristics – sometimes which seem a little ‘flighty’. However, even passion, for it to be meaningful, has to find it’s depth also. I think of someone like Gandhi – very passionate about his people’s independence – not only rested on the laurels of the belief his ideas were moving – but they would also cause movement. I think passion is vital to belief – but passion alone will not show someone the idea is valid…it needs to find it’s depth in real workings.

    Our take is that passion needs to be combined with law, mitzvot. Passion helps lead to commitment, without any passion it’s tough to reach the commitment stage, but mitzvot make that commitment stick no matter the feelings. Mitzvot are all about action of course, what we do. Although our wording is different, we definitely are in agreement that passion without action is not going to last or be worth much in the long run.

    A casual throw/sharing/showing of the ideas is all we can do – maybe someone hears them and thinks ‘I can use that’ and another in ear-shot thinks ‘wow, what a moron’.

    Hey, that has never happened to me! 8) Interesting to think of the sower because of course our first thought is of a person since that is the story, but in sometimes the sower might be the wind, fire, storms, birds, animals. I’m thinking of the best apple orchard my father had that grew up all on it’s own in a former pigpen. Well, you can picture how the seed got planted…..I suppose that’s pretty irreverent, but the next time someone tells you you’re full of something you just might be planting some seed complete with its own fertilizer!

    Yes, the choice of soil isn’t up to us, but if you come to northeastern Minnesota and start throwing around wheat seed expecting you’ll get to make bread eventually, you’d better have a good backup plan for another food source. Perhaps a bit of common sense is needed, too? General knowledge of the world around us?

    And that’s why you have become invaluable to my learning curve. You bring in perspectives that get me thinking a little deeper and wider on issues – and make me aware of aspects I have not considered. Isn’t this the point of discussion?

    That’s what my rabbi has done for me. I think sometimes people misunderstand though and think because a person learns from someone else they are becoming that someone else, or never disagree with that someone else. Besides, it’s always a two-way street.

    Is the true lesson of this story about the selectivity of people of the faith to hear what we want? Is there words of God that you reflected on that have made your life more meaningful?

    Do you think it’s always about hearing what we want or is some of this about hearing what we are able to hear? Hearing the voice that is meant for us? Along the lines of my wisdom post on manna?

    As for the last question. I don’t consider Torah to be words of God so much as words about God, but if I can count it, well, I have a blog devoted to Torah so I guess you could say I find a lot of meaning there. If I count God speaking through the words of others, that adds even more to the list….And then there is an occasional mystical moment of connection…..I think even with all of this, the most meaningful words to me would be the words about Torah. It is a tree of life for those who grasp it and all who uphold it are blessed, its ways are pleasant and all its paths are peace. We sing these words, in Hebrew of course, every Shabbat as we put the Sefer Torah back into the Ark.

  4. Good interpretations, guys.

    In this parable I see each one as a type of hearer of the gospel today.

    1) Folks who are too busy chasing other gods to stop and consider the Word; workaholics, excessive sports fanatics, etc.
    2) People who were attracted by the benefits of believing and were trapped by false teaching; those hooked by the Prosperity Gospel and those infatuated with the End Times. The shallow ground is the false teaching. IOW, passion that is quickly spent.
    3) Those who applied the principles but did not believe in their hearts; the nominal believers. When wealth came they forgot the gospel and spoiled themselves. For others, when poverty came they became bitter and left the faith.
    4) The good soil are those who understood profoundly the meaning of the Word, spending time studying it daily, and were able through it to avoid the great corruption of the world. The Way is a way of life.
    That’s my two cents.

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