July 10, 2011


Whoever has ears ought to hear. – Mt. 13: 9

   This parable is so familiar I thought it might be worthwhile to approach it from a rather different perspective. Given or preoccupation with efficiency & proficiency today, we might well shake our heads at the inefficiency of the sower’s efforts & the whole issue of extravagance & waste that this parable embodies. It is a lot like life: so much effort, so little results; so much spent energy, so little return.

   In everyday life, countless things are wasted, people are wasted, good deeds are wasted, honorable intentions are wasted. Why bother? In all the senseless losses of life, in all the senseless extravagances of nature, we are faced with mystery. Jesus Himself seems to be no exception to the rule. He is born & innocent children are slaughtered because of Him. He lives in a land of poverty & magi bring him costly gifts. Jesus even talks about a herdsman who leaves 99 sheep to search for one easily replaceable lamb; the Samaritan who gives his time & money to help a stranger. Then there is the terrible waste of His own life on a cross, right after a woman had wasted precious ointment in perfuming His feet.

   We can identify with all this. We sow a perfect wedding & sprout divorce. We scatter the seeds of parenting & the birds of drugs & a secular media come & peck away at our daily efforts. We plant an honest day’s work & are downsized. We cultivate decency & virtue & the so-called lifestyles touted by some celebrities choke our hopes for those dearest to us.

   We freely toss out the seeds of teaching & instruction & they seem to fall on shallow ground. We breed a firm faith & end up with non-practicing children. We nurture liberty only to produce license. Like the sower in the parable, we have extravagantly sown the seeds of our lives. But so often we find that the weeds have taken over. The other side seems to be winning. How do we handle this? Does our parable give us a direction, if not an answer? Yes. Here is a true story:

   Some years ago a baby boy was born in a Milwaukee hospital. The baby was blind, mentally retarded, & had cerebral palsy. He was little more than a vegetable who didn’t respond to sound or touch. His parents had abandoned him. The hospital didn’t know what to do with him. Then someone remembered May Lempke, a 52 year old nurse who lived nearby. She had raised 5 children of her own. She would know how to care for such a baby. They asked May to take the infant, saying, “He’ll probably die young.” May responded, “If I take the baby, he won’t die young; & I’ll be happy to take him.”

   May called the baby Leslie. It was not easy to care for him. Every day she massaged the baby’s entire body. She prayed over him; she placed his hands in her tears. One day someone said to her, “Why don’t you put that child in an institution?” As Leslie grew, so did May’s problems. She had to keep him tied in a chair to keep him from falling out. The years passed: 5, 10, 15. It wasn’t until Leslie was 16 years old that May was able to teach him to stand alone. All this time he didn’t respond to her. But all this time, May (wastefully so to speak) continued to love him & pray over him. She even told him stories of Jesus, though he didn’t seem to hear her. Eventually May & her husband bought an old second-hand piano. They put it in Leslie’s bedroom. May took Leslie’s hands in hers & showed him how to push the keys down, but he didn’t seem to understand.

   Then one winter night, May awoke to the sound of someone playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. She woke her husband up & asked him if he had left the radio on. He didn’t think so, but they decided to check. What they discovered was beyond their wildest dreams.

   Leslie was sitting at the piano. He was smiling & playing it by ear. It was too remarkable to be true. Leslie had never gotten out of bed alone before. He’d never seated himself at the piano before. He’d never struck a piano key on his own. Now he was playing beautifully. May dropped to her knees & said, “Thank you dear God. You didn’t forget Leslie.” Soon Leslie began to live at the piano. He played classical, country western, ragtime, gospel & even rock. It was absolutely incredible. All the music May had played for him was stored in his brain & was now flowing out through his hands into the piano.

   Doctors describe Leslie as an autistic savant, a person who is mentally retarded from brain damage, but extremely talented. They can’t explain this unusual phenomenon, although they have known about it for nearly 200 years.

   Leslie’s story figures in our parable. May extravagantly sowed the seeds of her love & her prayers for years with no return. It took her 16 years just to get mute Leslie to stand. But in the end she saw a harvest. Maybe not a hundredfold or even a sixtyfold harvest – Leslie is still mentally retarded – but a thirtyfold one of musical genius.

   The point of her story – & of our story – is that she was bound to try, for if she did not there would be less beautiful music in the world & God’s splendor would be hidden. Here is the direction that parable gives us, namely, whatever the success or failure or partiality of our efforts, we are compelled as God’s sowers to scatter our seeds of faith, hope & love wherever & to whomever we can, for without us there would be less of God’s splendor in the world. When that splendor disappears, it will be the end of the world.

   We Christians, like our Master, are a people who must do our best, try our hardest, live in hope, & keep God alive in the world because we believe that somehow, someday, we can & will make a difference. So we continue to play music for the spiritually damaged in the hope that there might be a concerto someday. We may never hear it, but there will be music in the world & there will be a harvest when it is over. Be in love with the sowing. Leave the rest to God.  AMEN!