I wonder how often Jesus told a story. The gospels, succinct as they are, seem to indicate that Jesus only ever told a story once. And that makes sense: the gospel authors wouldn’t want to be repetitive. But I bet Jesus reused some of his best ones. Different crowds, different places. Maybe he even retold some in a slightly different way, relating to his audience. The parables, metaphorical stories that have a point, could have multiple meanings, so it makes sense to me that Jesus would use them again and again. Good material can be hard to find.
Here’s one I think he might have reused more than a few times. I’ve borrowed it from Matthew 13: 1-9.
Listen, Jesus said. A wise old woman looked out her window one day. She looked up at the sun and down at the earth and she looked at her calendar and her clock and she said to herself, “it’s time.”
She picked up a large bag full of seeds and threw it over her shoulder. She stepped out her back door and she began tossing the seed to the earth, spreading them out as far as she could. And, when her bag was empty, she went back in the house and watched out the window, waiting.
Some of the seeds landed on the path from her door. She stepped on a few and some were eaten by the hungry birds that followed her.
Some of the seeds landed on rocks, where the birds didn’t see them. The sun was warm and the seeds sprang to life. But there was no water there, so they just shrivelled up.
Some of the seeds landed among weeds. There were dandelions and crab grass and chickweed and thistles. The weeds did very well and it wasn’t long before they overwhelmed the little seeds.
Some of the seeds landed in good soil. It was warm and wet and full of good things seeds need to grow. And they did, making a beautiful garden of the brightest flowers and the greenest leaves.
Jesus paused for a moment. The people were looking at him very confused. A couple were smiling, trying hard not to laugh. “What’s so funny?” Jesus asked.
“Well,” said one, “I’m not much of a gardener, but even I know that’s a lot of wasted seed.” “Yeah,” said another, “I have a bit of garden at my house and I would be a lot more careful where I planted the seeds. If you want things to grow, you have to be careful where you plant them. This woman is anything but wise.” There were nods of agreement all round. Except for Jesus.
“Perhaps,” said Jesus. “But the seed that fell on the path fed the birds. The seed that fell on the rocks was caught by the wind and planted elsewhere. Or, over time, perhaps enough will land there to make a little pocket of soil on the rock and start to wear it down. And the seeds in the weeds, well, what is a weed anyway? Sometimes they’re important, too. Besides, one or two might be strong enough to grow with the weeds, who knows?”
“Yes,” said someone, “who knows, Jesus. You have to invest in the best location. You have to plant where you know the seed will grow.” There were murmurs of agreement from the crowd.
“But,” said Jesus. “What if the seeds are God’s love? God invests in the certainty that all creation is deserving of love, just as it is. When we live God’s love in the world, each seed is like an act of love offered by you. The point is that it’s offered, with generosity and without conditions. Wherever it lands it has the hope of doing good, of growing more love and more generosity. Imagine, just imagine how full and beautiful the garden of earth would be, if we all offered love with the generosity of this wise old gardener.”