Last Sunday, we heard a reading from the Matthew 13: 1-23, in which Jesus tells the parable of the man who went out to sow seed. Some fell in places where it failed to grow and some into good soil where it yielded a rich harvest. I began to think about the life of seeds. I heard a sister ask another sister, “The package says these seeds are from 2019. Will they still grow? How long will a seed last?” The other sister assured her, “Yes, they will grow.”
This reminded me of a discovery by a doctor in Israel named Sara Sallon. She got a disease when working in India that was cured by traditional herbal remedies. This planted a seed in her mind, and so she pursued obtaining ancient seeds like those from the famous date plantations along the Dead Sea 2,000 years ago as described by Pliny and by the first-century historian Josephus. Most people would say that those places are not there anymore, and that their dates have just vanished. Sallon realized, though, that seeds from those trees still existed. They had been recovered from archaeological sites. So she went to the archaeologists and proposed planting some of those seeds to see if they would grow again. It didn’t go well at first. “They thought I was mad!” she says. “They didn’t think that this was even conceivable.” But she planted one and it grew. Then she went to another site, where there were seeds that were found in the place where the Dead Sea scrolls had been found and she planted more. Now that there are both female and male plants growing, she hopes that they will be pollinated and can then produce dates of the same kind that Jesus ate as he was walking around on earth. Imagine 2,000 year old seeds producing fruit!
We have an amazing seed too, that is, the seed that is planted in our hearts by God. These seeds can last forever but are of no use if we do not use them. They live in us and wait to be heard. The spiritual writer Richard Rohr says, “When we’ve ignored a thousand invitations, there’s still another one waiting.”
In the gospel, Jesus goes on to explain the parable to his listeners. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word but doesn’t understand and it is lost. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who initially hears the word with joy, but when trouble comes, falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears but then is distracted by anxiety or riches and bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears, understands and bears fruit. Jesus uses the word “hear” 14 times in this one teaching.
I recently had a hearing test where I had to repeat a sentence I was listening to while there were other competing voices on the recording. We are always hearing voices competing with the voice of God. Sometimes they are good voices, speaking words that go with God’s words, like voices we hear about racism or care of creation or abortion and other life issues. Sometimes they are voices that try to drown out the voice of God, as with those who say that their personal rights and freedom are more important than the common good.
There is a saying from the Jewish Talmud that says, “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Jesus teaches us that we have to attend to the message of the word with the ear of our heart in order to be penetrated by what God planted and bear fruit.