“Let he who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Sometimes when Jesus uses this phrase, a biblical variation of the Luther the Anger Translator comedy sketches pops into my mind. I picture a placid Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River, with a frenetic Keegan Michael Key as Luther next to him yelling, “Listen up, ya dum-dums!” While it is unlikely that this is the exact subtext of Jesus’ words, I think it’s fair to say that the passive, docile, felt-board Sunday School Jesus many of us grew up with paints a rather one-dimensional picture of an all-powerful God made flesh.
In this passage, we see a Jesus who challenges traditional notions of family and belonging, followed by the story of a farmer sowing seeds across varied terrain. When Jesus’ family shows up in verse 31, they’re not there to give a friendly hello. They’ve arrived to seize him because they believe that he has lost his mind (v. 21). They can’t fathom that he is the Messiah. In that context, Jesus’ dismissal of his family seems rational. Still, when he looks at those seated around him, listening to him, hanging on his every word, and declares these people as his family, that’s a bold, radical, hardly docile act.
The parable that follows this dramatic scene is one that many who grew up in the church may know well. In the tradition I was raised in, as well as the one that shaped my faith in college, this parable was essentially taught as an extension of the American Dream: work hard enough and you can make sure that these seeds of faith will fall on fertile soil! Don’t be like those plebeians who are as shallow as gravel or who let thorns choke their faith! In other words: you, too, can save yourself!
Yet there’s no mention of how that soil got to be that way in the first place. Did the soil make itself fertile, rocky, or full of thorny thickets? How do our environments shape our ability to let those seeds take root? When I read this passage this time, what stood out was how much there is beyond our control.
The older I get and the more I dive in to the scriptures, the more complex they become. Passages like these used to seem simple and straightforward, but now they’ve become wrapped in layers of miracle and mystery. The more I learn, the more I realize there is so much I don’t fully understand.
But I find comfort in the imagery of Jesus welcoming those seated around him, listening, into the family of God. And that opening our ears to really hear him might be the first step in letting those seeds of faith take root.
Stephanie Buck lives in Brightwood Park/North Petworth. She hates writing author bios, but she's always glad to get to know potential new friends over coffee, cocktails, or hikes through Rock Creek Park.