Sunday Reflection “It is like a seed” by Fr Dan Devitt
Lectio Divina for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – Mt 13,1-23
Pressed by the multitude that was crowding around to hear him, Jesus spoke a parable, or rather, he gave a discourse that included seven parables (13,1-52). The first of them is the longest and most developed, and is followed by an explanation, which is unusual. In his mission of evangelization, Jesus enjoyed the initial enthusiasm of the people (4,17-11,1) and then a gradual rejection by the Pharisees (11,2-12,50). This parable deals with his experience as a preacher and reflects his most intimate convictions. The seed is appropriate as an image that reveals one of the secret laws of the kingdom, the hidden power of the Word of God. Jesus uses it to draws his listeners’ attention to their responsibilities. It is not enough to listen – they must bear fruit. It is not enough to welcome the teaching – they must live it. Answering him well or following him closely is of no merit. If listening to the word of God does not lead to obedience, we are wasting our time.
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.” 10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: `You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. 18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
I.Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.
Jesus chose the parable as a teaching method, like an experienced evangelizer who had known success and failure. With the image of the seed he seeks to explain the nature of the Kingdom of God and the laws that govern its inauguration. He reveals also his own convictions. He tells how the kingdom grows and why it meets so much difficulty. His words are a serious warning for his hearers and, at the same time, a clear message of hope.
Jesus does not normally comment on his parables. He allows them to speak for themselves and to question the listeners. Here, unusually, he adds a double comment, which proves that what he is saying is of great importance. In fact the explanation is addressed only to his disciples. It is in two parts: a strict theological judgement and an allegory to clarify the issue. First of all he responds to a logical question from his disciples. He justifies his use of parables by recourse to Scripture. The reason he gives is even more surprising: “that they [may] … listen without hearing or understanding.” A people unwilling to obey God does not deserve a clear and convincing teaching. If they are unwilling to be converted, they should be prevented from hearing. They must first feel the need for salvation if they are to open their eyes and their hearts to the gospel that is preached to them. Hearing the word is not enough to make one a believer, just as being the sons of prophets is not enough to enter the kingdom. Anyone who closes his or her eyes and heart to Christ is excluded from the kingdom of God.
Jesus goes on to explain the parable in detail, but only to the disciples who are happy because they see and believe. Accompanying Jesus makes them happier than the prophets who had hoped to see what they saw, but did not see it. Jesus identifies the difficulties that hinder the acceptance and growth of the seed. The problem is not that the seed is refused. They all receive the seed but some either neglect it or allow it to be stolen from them. He mentions the generosity or the extravagance of the sower who sees no harm in wasting seed, scattering it where there is little or no chance of it taking root. Then he points out the different levels of fruitfulness of those who receive the word and tend it well. Even in a good field the seed does not always produce the same crop. The ground must be prepared if it is to yield a harvest, but the results do not depend on one’s level of preparation. We today have the chance to hear the word, and the risk of not accepting it, but that is not enough. If no crop is produced, the sowing is wasted, and even the work of God and of Jesus himself. This implies a serious responsibility for those who know that the Word of God is nourishment for their lives.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
We who listen frequently to the gospel should feel challenged by the serious warning, and comforted by the welcome promise contained in the words of Jesus. The seed reaches all, but not all are equally prepared. The obstacles that prevent God’s word entering people’s lives are as varied as the people themselves. Every listener needs to re-examine his opposition to God who speaks, but the reasons for resistance are always unique and exclusive. They arise, as in the parable, from the concrete circumstances in which each one lives. For this reason, even in the best of fields, as every farmer well knows, the yield is uneven. The prior preparation may be the same for all, but that does not ensure that the final outcome will be the same for all. A good disposition is needed, but the fertility of the soil does not depend on the grain. The word of God needs to be welcomed and cared for. But it is the potential of the word that yields fruit in the life of the believer, and not the efforts of the one who receives it.
The sower puts his trust in the seed and in the field. So does God trust us when he speaks his word to us. Even though we may put every imaginable obstacle in the way, God puts his trust in us, showing his love for us, sowing his word in our lives. The trust God places in us should frighten us, before ever we think about the way we have responded. We should be moved by the hope that God has for us, and the trust he shows in us when he considers us worthy to receive his word. How could we fail to marvel at a God who continues to sow his seed in us, and does not allow himself to be discouraged by the poor results we yield? We are enriched by his sowing, and encouraged to yield a harvest, despite our weakness and past failures.
We enter into dialogue with God and become the object of his attention, when we feel obliged to respond and we strive to obey. Anyone who listens to the word of God, therefore, should feel privileged to have been chosen by God before ever he feels obliged to respond. One of the best ways of knowing that we are loved by God is, without doubt, when we know that we have been asked by him to act according to his will. If we did not matter to God, he would have no interest in us. The fact that he comes to meet us, that he considers us worthy to receive his word, like the field chosen by the sower to receive the seed, should convince us that he still cares about us and still counts on us. Being a hearer of the word of God means first of all being a friend of God.
The seed that is sown, the Word of God heard, is more than an unmerited privilege – it is a responsibility to be cultivated. A newly ploughed field can remain barren despite the work of the sower. Similarly, we can find a thousand ways to ignore the word that God has deigned to communicate to us. We can allow the word God has placed in our hearts to be stolen. We can put obstacles there that prevent God from planting deep roots in our lives. We can allow his demands to be suffocated by our own desires and illusions. We can be more concerned with what we have not got than with what God has promised. We can start seeking by our own efforts what God wants to give us by his grace. We can prefer an easy life without God to a God who makes demands of us. We can turn his word into an empty sound, and allow his interest in us to be wasted.
God persists in continuing to sow his word in our hearts. It would be good for us today to ask ourselves what specific obstacles he finds in our lives. What is it, apart from God, that is given priority in our lives? What receives most attention in our day-to-day lives? What occupies our hearts? What gives meaning to our lives? We will not be converted to hear and obey God’s word, unless we identify the source of our indifference, our laziness and resistance.
As Jesus pointed out, the same field and the same seed do not always yield the same crop. If this does not upset the farmer, it should not be a problem for us either. God takes for granted that all should yield fruit, but he knows that not all have the same generosity. Anyone who treasures the word God speaks to him, and values God’s plan for him, should not feel discouraged. God does not demand the maximum, but he wants everyone to give something of what he has received. The hope God has for those who become his friends, and enter into dialogue with him to know his will, does not decrease if they do not succeed in giving all that God wishes. God trusts us enough to speak his word to us and reveal his will for us. He is a patient God and hopes each day for something more than we have given yesterday. God is not satisfied just because we are good – he wants the best from us. Because he loves us greatly, he hopes for the very best from us. And because he loves us always more and more, he hopes that tomorrow we will be better than we are today.
We are God’s field where he has worked to sow his seed, and this increases our responsibility. Like the farmer, God hopes for a good yield. If we do not respond to God’s hopes for us, we are excluded from his kingdom. God could lose us if we refuse his efforts, but we would not lose God. However, if God were to lose us, that would indeed be the greatest loss of all.
For us, as for that crowd that heard Jesus speaking for the first time about God the Sower, our good fortune at hearing God’s word, and the danger of not accepting it, are equal. If we do not bear fruit, God’s hope in us becomes vain, his work in our lives of no value, and worst of all, God can do nothing in us. Could this be the reason why, even though we have been listening to God’s word for many years, people see nothing new in us, no fruit that is worthy of God? If we rejoice because God loves us, and takes such care of us, is it not high time for us to assume our responsibility, once and for all, and begin to do what he wants of us? Then, and only then, can we be sure that God will continue to sow his seed in us, and to trust and hope in us.