Fr Andrew Walker let me choose between a lesson about Noah’s Ark and the Parable of the Sower. I was tempted by Noah’s Ark, because the children’s toys are not so common as they once were and American Evangelicals are always finding bits of the Ark on Mount Arrarat – a story changed into history, with relics to prove it. But no – we will resist and look at the Parable of the Sower.
In the Gospel – the Good News – Jesus tells a story, “A sower went out to sow” and the results are what life is like – a bit hit and miss – the seed is broadcast with a liberal, some might say careless, prodigality. The New Testament is uncomfortable about this, so in St Mark chapter 4 “When He was alone the disciples asked him … What does this mean?”
All of us who are in any way involved with the healing ministry of the Church are asked to explain the questions we ask ourselves – “why did this happen to me?” But a more fruitful line of enquiry might be the original form of the Parable of the Sower “A sower went out to sow …” just that – without the sermon the New Testament attached to it so that everything is explained…. Except that it isn’t – who made the stony ground? The too hot sun? The thin soil?
You know better that I do that healing can take a lifetime – unpicking the threads – untying the knots – changing both diet and attitude – finding a doctor with the most precious gift of all – Time – and the skill needed to listen – and sometimes the seed is broadcast on very stony ground and can find no root at all. For many, healing simply doesn’t come. The Sower casts his seed with liberal prodigality.
But these are uncomfortable facts and religion, like quack medicine, sells us snake oil – not only the Jehovah’s Witnesses at every station, but Padre Pio, canonised in 2004 by St John Paul II and gracing every street shrine in Palermo where I was last Sunday. He was and is a hugely popular new Saint in Italy – bi-location (very useful), a mystic, a healer and a stigmatist. He has a shop in the Vauxhall Bridge Road, near me in Pimlico. Padre Pio is helpful to the religious conservative because he proves the continued existence of the supernatural. Say the Rosary and go to Mass and make your confession and at the least you will have pleased God and the Church. But glance again at the Sower – the seed is broadcast with an almost careless prodigality – many thousands of good people suffer and die with no Marylebone Healing Centre nearby and many despots and their wealthy families find healing in the Clinics and Consulting Rooms here in this same part of London.
First then, we must resist the temptation to imitate Mark 4 verses 10 to 20, which gave the disciples what they asked for. We are invited to live by faith, not by sight. To ask the right questions.
Secondly, we stand before an ultimately unknown God, as the Greeks did in Athens when St Paul tried, without success, to explain the Resurrection to them – except – we believe that God is. God is as He is in Jesus. Therefore we have hope.
Noah’s Ark is a good story, but – let me stick my neck out here – it’s rotten theology – because it teaches us that only a chosen few are saved from the drowning – hence the Church is the Ark of those saved out of this wicked world and this attitude has gone deep into the DNA of our religion, doing untold damage. But – let me take my hat off to the Marylebone Healing Centre, where thoughtful, critical, scientific, literate, hopeful attempts are made every day to be open to the God whose liberality is revealed in the Life and Death of the young man who told us about a Sower who went out to sow and who alone knows when the harvest and healing will be … And what that will cost to God.