A sociologist would have a slightly different perspective: are you Male / female; single, married, widowed, divorced; employed, self-employed, unemployed, retired, student; white collar / blue collar; socioeconomic class A B or C1, and so on
To a Chinese astrologer your vicar is a horse; which is probably better than the estimation of the western soothsayer, for whom I fit in the box marked bull.
We human's love to categorise. It helps us make sense of a confusing world. Even, if occasionally it makes things even more complicated than it already is, and often more fractious, well we still love to do it.
Scientists are particularly prone to it and psychologists have built a whole industry out of the dubious notion of psychometric tests which promise to tell you definitively what sort of person you are, introvert or extrovert, alpha or beta: answer a few multiple choice questions and all your secrets are laid bare. Such is the all pervasiveness of our desire to pigeonhole that categorising quizzes are the bread and butter of popular magazines, newspapers and web sites.
Now, psychometric tests aside (and that's probably the best place to put them), the ability to categorise the world is a very useful one: it allows us to make sense of a world that, without categories, can be too confusing, too ambiguous. There's something really quite disturbing to the human mind about something we can't put in its place. Even if we have to really push, squeeze and twist the square peg to force it into the round hole, we're willing to look the other way, as long as it goes where we think it should fit.
Saint Matthew, our Gospel guide for this year, is the most uncompromising pigeonholer. In his gospel there is little subtlety and rarely room for ambiguity- you're either for Jesus, or you're not; you're in or you're out, you're sheep or you're goat, wise or foolish, wheat or tare. Matthew's Jesus allows no possibility of a finely nuanced position: there are no Lib Dems in the Kingdom of Heaven. Sounding good. Today's Gospel reading, the parable of the sower and the seeds, might, at first hearing, appear to be very much running down the same either /or one or the other track.
I can remember some years back sitting listening to this parable being read at Mass and becoming very worried. I recognised myself quite clearly in the description of the person who gets lost in the cares of the world. And also the one whose enthusiasm sometimes started with a bang and ended in a whimper. And...
Quite understandably, I concluded that the parable is offering us a set of 'either / or' categories and well, as I seemed to almost constantly be in danger of being throttled by the thorns, that's was me done for.
There is no getting away from it: heard in a particular way, the parable of the sower and the seeds is definitely disheartening. But that is probably thinking about this parable in the wrong way. In the parables of Jesus, truth is heightened, concentrated if you like. Out goes the extraneous, the incidental, the mere circumstantial and the truth is laid bare open in stark uncompromising colours. The stories are short and pithy; painted in nightmare shades they give us the truth in the cruel strokes of a caricature, because it is so much more memorable that way.
This is almost certainly one of those rare Gospel occasions where things are not quite as clear cut as they seem. Maybe, Jesus' parable of the sower and the seed is NOT giving us a set of mutually exclusive ways to categorise each other, we're not being divided up into either bird food, sunburnt, thorn pricked or super-fruit. It helps the memory to deal in extremes and stereotypes but most of us are to be found in the lump in the middle.
Perhaps what we are shown is four possible ways of responding to the Word of God, four ways that each and every one of us, even the most saintly, will at some times in our lives, find ourselves acting out, possibly one very soon after the other, possibly with more than one simultaneously, or if we're really unlucky, all, at the same time.
Because how ever hard a Christian tries, there will be times when the cares of the world will threaten to become all consuming, there will be times when our enthusiasm will be lukewarm and short-lived, the only word in our hearts will be 'whatever', our faith fair-weather; there will be times when our wills are too weak and temptation too strong. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. But there will also be times of good works, of firm faith, of devoted worship, of fervent mission even, when the Word of God will bring forth from us a rich harvest indeed.
Our task here, as Christians, is not to panic when we feel the peck of a beak on our backs, the constriction of the thorns and the weeds squeezing our souls or the thinness of the soil on which we stand. Nobody ever said it was always going to be plain sailing, but even the most persistent invasive weeds can be dealt with. Birds can be scared away. Rocks can be cleared and soil quality improved. Like any garden, it's a lifelong job and sometimes backbreaking work. But really, the sower and the seeds is a parable of encouragement, a call to respond in the very best way we can to what has been sown.
And we have heard the call. That is the first hurdle. Unless you realise that seeds are being sown, you cannot tend them. Unless you know what birds do, how dangerous the weeds can be, how little growth our shallow soil will support; unless you know, you will never be able encourage those precious shoots. But we have heard. We are the first to wake up while our fellows are still snoring in their slumbers; out at dawn tilling the rows, clearing the ground, chasing away the birds. With care and persistence, we will bear the fruit worthy of the seed that has been sown in us, that most precious of seeds: the Word of God.
Fr Andrew Fenby