Fifteenth Sunday of the Year July 13, 2008

 Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23

We human beings communicate with words.  Sometimes the words spoken wound hearts and launch wars and at times cement relationships; sometimes make promises and at other times console those suffering as again bring hope to those in despair. We have also the word of God. This Word of God comes into the world in diverse ways and we are not yet ready to receive that word. Today’s Gospel tells us the story of the farmer who goes to sow the seed.  Here our faith tells us that the words in creation brought life and light. Our faith tells us of the word of God that says I am your God and you are my people, tells them that all are his own. Faith says, go and sin no more or again, forgive, make disciples, love your neighbor. It reminds us of the word made flesh and this creative word pitched his tent among us. Today Jesus wants us to bear fruit a hundred fold and win life eternal.

 In the first reading we have the power of the word of God: it is like snow and rain which will not go back till it has yielded sufficient fruit. The second reading tells us of the creation that is groaning, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. The Gospel has the parable of the sower and the seed. The parable has strong links with the First Reading from Isaiah.  In both we are told that God shares his abundance with us and his plans will not be frustrated.  God’s creative and nurturing work is compared with rain and snow falling on the earth and not returning until it has given moisture, “making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating”.  In the parable, it is true that the seed falls many times on inhospitable soil but some will undoubtedly fall on rich soil and produce an abundant harvest.  Here we have the promise of the Lord that the word of God will not return empty.  It will always fulfill the purpose for which it was sent.

The Gospel has three distinct parts: parable, interlude, and explanation of the parable.  This is the way in which Jesus tells the story and his words are very striking. This is followed by a theological interpretation of the parable, perhaps the interpretation emanating from the early Church and providing a definite message.  To an ordinary cultivator the parable itself is clear, placing the emphasis on God the sower of the seed or the creator, who works and produces results.  The interpretation of the parable is on the individual or the ground, the soil and the ways in which a person can respond.  The interlude or the comment in between gives the key to our response and subsequent fertility of the seed.

In the whole of Scripture God’s word is not just a spoken word.  It is a doing word, a creating, life-giving word.  It is like a life-bearing seed.  Where do we encounter that word?  If we are sufficiently sensitive, we encounter it unceasingly in every experience of our lives, whether that experience is joyful or sad, a success or a failure, pleasant or painful.  We Christians in particular experience God’s word in a very special way and that is in Jesus Christ.  For Jesus is the Word of God.  Everything that Jesus said, everything that Jesus did was God communicating to us through him.  Not just his teaching but his whole life, from the hidden years of Nazareth through his public life to his death and resurrection – in all of this Jesus was, and is for us today, the Word of God.

And yet, as in the parable, much of that Word fell on barren soil.  Many refused to hear or to see.  Even Jesus’ closest disciples did not provide, at first, very promising soil.  Jesus’ life and mission seemed to end in tragic and dismal failure.  There was not a single disciple in sight.  His enemies laughed and mocked him.  It was precisely at that moment as the seed “fell into the ground and died” that the Word of God began to take root in people’s hearts.  Beginning, like the tiny mustard seed, like the small amount of yeast in a large batch of dough, the seed, the Word of God, began to grow and flourish against all odds.”The word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.”  As with Jesus himself, so with us today we need to be reminded that God’s plans will not be frustrated, that the Kingdom will be established.

But to his disciples and followers Jesus says, “Happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear!”  Many before Jesus’ time longed to see and hear but never got the privilege of Jesus’ followers.  The key word today is ‘hear’.  It is a very scriptural word and contains essentially four elements namely, to listen with a totally open and unconditional mind; to understand what one hears; to accept and appropriate fully what one understands; this acceptance flows out into impementation. One can listen but not understand and one can understand without accepting and one can accept without implementing.  All four are necessary for conversion and healing.  All four are necessary for full hearing.

All of this leads to the interpretation of the parable on the level of different kinds of hearing.  Some seed falls on the path.  There is no soil here and hence there is no possibility of the seed taking root.  Ears and eyes are closed and unreceptive to the Word of God. The seed falls on rocky ground in the field where there is a thin layer of soil.  The seed takes root, begins to grow but soon gets burnt up by lack of water and the heat of the sun. It is like those Christians who, after some spiritual experience, have a great rush of enthusiasm for God but, under the slightest pressure, soon run out of steam and fall away.  The seed falls on soil where there are many weeds and thorns.  It gets smothered by the competing plants.  They want to be a good Christians but also want to have all the things of the world. It won’t work.  They cannot at the same time totally serve God and be a part of the materialistic, consumerist, “success”-hungry world.  Finally, some of the seed falls in rich, nutritious soil.  This soil is like the person who hears and understands and yields a harvest” in varying degrees of abundance.

Jesus has a special place for the disciples.  After giving the Parable of the Sower to the crowd, Jesus tells them that it is for them to know the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven and not to others. They are specially chosen to listen and to understand. To the disciples it was meant to know the way to the Kingdom of God because they were persons with a mission. Those whose eyes are opened and whose ears are able to hear the Word of God, they know the way, the truth and the life that leads to the Kingdom of God.






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