15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
The parable of the seed
1. Opening prayer
Prayer is also the willingness to listen; it is the suitable time for meeting with God. Today, the Sunday of the ‘sower’, we would like to open our hearts to listen to the word of Jesus using the words of St. John Chrysostom that we too may become docile and willing listeners of the saving Word: «Grant, Lord, that I may listen attentively and remember constantly your teaching, that I may put it into practice forcefully and courageously, despising riches and avoiding the worries of a worldly life… Grant me your strength and that I may meditate on your words putting down deep roots and purifying me of all worldly perils» (St. John Chrysostom, A Commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew 44:3-4).
a) the context:
Matthew places the parable of the seed along with the events of the preceding chapters 11 and 12 where he mentions the kingdom of God that suffers violence. The theme of our parable, as also of the whole of the discourse in parables in chapter 13, is the kingdom of God.
b) The Text:
1 That same day, Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeside, 2 but such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat there. The people all stood on the shore, 3 and he told them many things in parables. He said, 'Listen, a sower went out to sow. 4 As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up at once, because there was no depth of earth; 6 but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and, not having any roots, they withered away. 7 Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Anyone who has ears should listen!'
3. A moment of prayerful silence
In our busy way of acting, which leads to exterior concerns, we feel the need to stop and calm down in silence… at such a time we become receptive of the fire of the Word…
4. Interpreting the text
a) The action of the sower:
The parable speaks of a sower, not of a peasant, and his activity is marked by the contrast between the loss of the seeds (13, 4-7) and the abundant fruit (13, 8). Furthermore, we need to note the difference between the wealth of the description of those who lose the seeds and the concise form of the abundant fruit. But the number of failed and disappointing experiences represented by the various forms of loss of seeds (on the edge of the path…on patches of rock... among thorns...) is contrasted with the great harvest that makes us forget the negative experiences of the losses. Again, in the parable there is the time difference between the initial phase of the sowing and the end phase which coincides with the fruit of the harvest. If in the various attempts at sowing there is no fruit, such lack brings to mind the Kingdom of God at the time of the great harvest. Jesus, the sower, sows the word of the kingdom (13,19) which makes present the lordship of God over the world, over people and that bears the final fruit. The parable has such persuasive force as to bring the listener to trust in the works of Jesus, which, while marked by failure or disappointment, will finally succeed.
b) Apart, Jesus communicates to the disciples the reason for speaking in parables (13,10-17):
After telling the parable and before his explanation (13,18-23) the disciples go up to Jesus (the verb “to go up to” expresses the intimate relationship with Jesus) and put an explicit question to him, they cannot see why Jesus speaks to the crowds in parables (v.10: Why do you talk to them in parables?). The reply to their question is in v.13: «...The reason I talk to them in parables is that they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding». It is as if to say: the crowds neither perceive nor understand. Jesus does not mean to force them to understand. Indeed until now Jesus has spoken and acted clearly, but the crowds have not understood; but, as the time has come for him to go on revealing his message in all its radical nature – namely understanding – he has recourse to the language of parables, which although more obscure may stimulate the crowds to think more, to reflect on the obstacles that prevent their understanding of the teachings of Jesus. This seems like a repetition of the times of Isaiah, when the people were closed to the message of God (Is 6,9-10), and as such a situation of refusal foreseen by biblical tradition repeats itself in the crowds that “see-listen” but do not understand.
c) The explanation of the parable (13,18-23):
After Jesus expressed his reasons for speaking in parables, he showed the fate of the word of the Kingdom in each of his listeners. Although there are four kinds of soil listed, there are only two types of listeners compared: those who listen to the Word and do not understand it (13,19) and those who listen to the Word and understand (13, 23). It is interesting to note that Matthew, in contrast with Mark, tells the story in the singular. It is the personal commitment that is the benchmark of real listening and true understanding. The first category of listeners shows that they listen to the Word (19), but do not understand it. Understanding the Word here is not to be understood on the intellectual level but on the wisdom level. It is necessary to enter into its deep and saving meaning. In the second (13, 20-21) the Word is heard and welcomed with joy. Such a welcome (lack of roots) becomes unstable when the initial enthusiasm wears out, perhaps because of experiences of suffering and persecution inevitable in every journey of faithful listening to God.
5. Meditation for ecclesial practice
- What can the parable say to the Church of today? Which soil does our ecclesial community represent? On the personal level, what interior availability and understanding do we manifest in our listening of the Word?
6. Psalm 65 (64)
You visit the earth and make it fruitful,
7. Closing prayer
Lord, your parable of the sower concerns each one of us, the ways of our lives, the hardness of daily life, the difficulties and the moments of softness that are part of our interior scene. We are all, from time to time, sometimes path, rocks and thorns; but also good, fertile soil. Deliver us from the temptation of negative forces that try to eliminate the force of your Word. Strengthen our will when passing and changing emotions render the seduction of your Word less efficacious. Help us to keep the joy that our meeting with your Word creates in our hearts. Strengthen our hearts so that in times of tribulation we may not feel defenceless and thus exposed to discouragement. Grant us the strength to stand up to the obstacles we place to your Word when the worries of the world come or when we are deceived by the mirage of money, seduced by pleasure or by the vanity of appearances. Make us good soil, welcoming persons, capable of rendering our service to your Word. Amen!
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