I’ve always been bothered by Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, because it literally implies we’re powerless about whether we ultimately believe or disbelieve, that it’s either predetermined or else external conditions can determine it.* I’ve just come to it again in NABRE Mark 4:
3 “Hear this! A sower went out to sow.
4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.
6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots.
7 Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain.
8 And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
9 He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”
14 The sower sows the word.
15 These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them.
16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy.
17 But they have no root; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
18 Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word,
19 but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit.
20 But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
By contrast, the Church teaches that it’s up to us to choose to believe in spite of persecution, hardship, inexplicable suffering – as if seed could extract itself from the rocks and thorns and move into rich soil. Has the Holy Spirit revealed to us after this parable that indeed it can, that this is precisely what ‘entering the Church’ is?
But this seems to be nonsensical and contradict Jesus’ Parable, because He chose to use ‘seed’, and seed clearly does not move itself: Someone else must move it. Is that why Jesus tells us to pray for more priests and religious, to do this work of relocating the seeds (or of tearing out the thorns and removing rocks)? But in the Bible that’s about collecting the harvest, i.e. once the seeds have finished growing, not during planting time …
So how do we reconcile this parable with free will, when it seems clearly and irrefutably to teach predestination or a certain capricious powerlessness? Am I to read it less literally, and assume the positive interpretations I’ve described above and ignore how they don’t literally agree with the text?
- Writing this I am reminded of Our Lady of Fatima’s message, “Many go to hell because they have no one to pray for them,” which likewise bothers me – it implies others’ salvation is dependent on us to ask God to change their minds, which doesn’t make sense to me. I know there’s a mystery such that mankind is one body, so to speak, i.e. either damned by being part of Adam or redeemed by being part of Christ, but this doesn’t clarify the contradiction of free will, unless we actually have “collective free will” rather than individual free will. This would explain what Catholic Answers taught years ago about the need for Confession – that sin hurts the Body of Christ, and Confession and penance heals it.