15th. Sunday of Year (A)
(Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23)
You may well have thought that the sower in the Gospel parable did a pretty careless job: sowing on patches of rock, and among thorns; and one popular translation apparently tries to make the sower seem a little more accurate in his work by saying that some seeds ‘fell on the edge of the path’! That, however, though verbally more precise, is not accurate enough for most modern translations, which say quite clearly:
Some seed fell on the path and birds came and ate it up.
All this is, however, can be understood if we realize that in Palestine of Jesus’ day sowing preceded ploughing; hence, in the parable, the sower is depicted as striding over the unploughed stubble. As he sows on all hands, he knowingly allows some seed to fall on the path which locals have made walking through the stubble, since he thinks that such seed should be able to take root well enough when he comes along to plough up that unwanted footpath. Also, we should not be surprised that some grains fall upon rocky ground, for the underlying limestone -- thinly covered with soil -- hardly shows above the surface and is not noticed until the ploughshare jars against it! It is more surprising that he allows seed to fall among the thorns in the fallow, but that may well be because he is a working man who simply has neither the time nor the energy ... even if he has the patience! ... to keep stopping and starting, avoiding first this and then that; he needs must work over the whole field in order to get the job done in preparation for the seasonal weather and, as I have said, to have some hope for, possibly, just a little bit extra this time – most welcome to his relative poverty -- from what might appear to be the otherwise fruitless patches of land. How many circumstances there were to frustrate, even thwart, the sower’s labours! How much there was that could dishearten him!
Nevertheless, he had known a few years – so treasured in his memory – when quite wonderful crops had resulted:
Some a hundred-fold, some sixty, some thirty!!
Crops beyond expectations, larger by far than those other harvests that he had also known and remembered for the paucity of their yield!
Dear People of God, this was a parable meant by Our Blessed Lord to show – on the one hand -- that the rich blessings of God’s Kingdom here on earth will come to fruition despite what might be the insignificant beginnings, and slow, laborious, development of that Kingdom, and despite all human opposition that might make it appear -- humanly speaking – impossible for it to succeed.
My word that goes forth from My mouth shall not return to Me void, but shall do My will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
The Kingdom of God will, indeed, come for those who have firm faith in Jesus and patient trust in God’s great goodness and mercy; because those wonderfully prophetic words from Isaiah are fulfilled most sublimely in the very Person of Jesus Himself:
My Word (My beloved Son-made-flesh) shall not return to Me void, but shall do My will, achieving the end for which I sent (Him).
And so, in Our Lord’s own life on earth among men, He suffered ‘social obstructions and human opposition’ to such an extent that He – the very Son of God made man -- died maligned and even hated, left alone and deserted: an abject failure in the sight of men. But, His trust in His Father was unshaken; He committed Himself without reserve to Him:
Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit.
The Kingdom of God in our souls expands to its full extent in the same way. With the sower we must do our best: first, to set out with confidence each recurring season to work well and then to trust, calmly and firmly, in the goodness of God, our Father. We must, however, work at the whole field: not only in the good parts, but also in those which are thorny and stony, on the trodden down and hard pathway; we must work not only at that which comes easier to us, but also in those areas of life which we find it more difficult, where the rough, stony, mediocre ground seems more abundant than the fertile. The point is, we must work at our whole being-before-God with simple sincerity, and quiet, persevering, endeavour, and then trust in God with calm peace, and confident expectancy. Results are His gift, for His glory, and for our greater well-being and true joy.
Then the disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Why do You speak to the people in parables?’ He said to them in reply, ‘Because they look but do not see, and hear but do not listen or understand.’
It was no arbitrary decision of Our Lord which led to Him speak in parables to the people. No, it was the inevitable consequence of, and a most appropriate accommodation with, the poor dispositions of those who listened to Him. With a parable He offered them wisdom and life, hidden in a tale, in a little human story, they might find interesting enough to remember, one in which, one day, they might be able to glimpse and appreciate something of the hidden life contained in it.
That is why we, dear People of God, as disciples of Jesus, must work at the whole field of our lives. It is not enough to be good to our own family, if we are deaf and blind to the needs of others; it is not enough to be sober and thrifty if we are also ill-tempered or wrapped up in the things of this world; it is not enough to say, ‘I don’t do anyone any harm’ if we don’t seek to promote anything good because it is good; it is not enough to be a ‘good mum’ if you want children more for your pleasure or your imagined fulfilment, rather than for your children’s prospective good.
What beauty we see or what truth we hear, what love we conceive, depends so very much on who we are; that is, on what we have made of ourselves thus far:
They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
A man who is lustful may be generous hearted and hard working – but he cannot rightly conceive or meditate upon the love of God, because love for him has a twisted meaning; he cannot really imagine or appreciate a disinterested love or deep soul-satisfying joy because pleasure and passion clouds and distorts his outlook. And such distortion spreads elsewhere and can come to contaminate all we do unless we react firmly against it and any other such vices which have found a place in our character and a part in our life. If we are slaves in one aspect of our life, we cannot be truly free in any other, because we are not really ourselves, the selves God intended us to be. As Jesus said in this respect:
To anyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
And so, People of God, I would recommend you today to aim at being consistent in your endeavours to let God’s W/word take root, and God’s Kingdom come to reign, in your lives ... not just in one part, but in the whole of your lives, for that alone will bring true, lasting, joy and peace into your hearts:
Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear! Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it; to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
Yes, you will find God at work in your life, you will become aware of Him speaking in your heart, and you will rejoice as they alone can rejoice who have found a love beyond compare, a love which time can never tarnish nor changing circumstances disturb. That, indeed, is the aim of all our religious practices: to recognize and respond with love to God in all aspects and occurrences of life; to see God’s beauty and loveable-ness in all persons and in all things, and to rejoice in Him with all our heart:
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.
May we have that purpose fulfilled both here and in eternity, through Jesus Christ Our Lord, and may His Gospel parable for today influence and guide our whole lives, for the sower did his utmost to get the very best out of the land he had; and so should, so must, we!