As a gardener, I’ve always appreciated Jesus’s descriptions of growing things as a metaphor for our journey of faith. The parable of the sower (Matthew 13) certainly challenges us to tend the soil of our hearts even as we sow seeds of justice. But as I read the gospel this week, I found that it was actually Jesus’s dialogue with his disciples that caught my attention—probably because of my exasperation with a political culture that makes even basic safety measures like wearing masks into a contentious issue, never mind racial and economic justice.
Asked why he speaks in parables, Jesus basically says that not everyone is going to get it:
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their hearts and be converted—
and I would heal them.
It might not seem particularly hopeful to acknowledge that some of the people we encounter will be “hard ground” when it comes to promoting the justice of God’s kingdom, but I found it somehow consoling and freeing to hear this kind of realism from Jesus. I also found it intriguing that Jesus’s “strategy” in response is not to double down on instruction and argumentation or facts or force with such people, but to tell a story to those with ears to hear.
What might it mean for us to do likewise in our own advocacy and activism? What are the stories that have softened our hearts or challenged and inspired us to do justly and love mercy? What difference would it make if we were to stop arguing with those who ‘hear but do not listen’ so that we can till the soil of a movement by telling its stories?
Jessica Wrobleski currently serves as vice president of mission at Saint Joseph Academy and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Jesuit Retreat Center in Cleveland, OH. Originally from West Virginia, she received her PhD from Yale University in 2009 and taught theology at Saint Mary’s College and Wheeling Jesuit University until 2019.