Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables.
Matthew sets the scene for us. We can see Jesus being mobbed by eager followers and curiosity seekers alike, having to step into the boat in order to get some room and some distance, so He can think and speak and be heard by all. And then Matthew says something that seems inconsequential, probably because we’re so accustomed to hearing it, “And he told them many things in parables.” Of course He did. He was there to speak, to teach, what’s important about this sentence? The answer is that He told them parables.
If someone were to ask us what we mean by the word “parable”, we might give the basic dictionary definition, “a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.” But there isn’t anything simple about a parable, because what these stories really are is a way to convey to human beings the mysteries of God. We like things we can “take at face value”, and so Jesus puts divine mysteries into everyday settings, making them sound simple. In truth, these “simple stories” go far deeper than face value, and Jesus tells them to His disciples, His followers, and us – trusting we will explore them to their depths.
In today’s Gospel Jesus offers His followers an explanation of the parable, but even the explanation requires that we think more deeply about the meaning of what our Lord is telling us.
A sower went out to sow.
While we may not know anything about farming, most of us know a little about gardening. I, myself, may not be extremely talented at it, but like most folks who love gardening, I’m dedicated.
All dedicated gardeners share a single minded devotion to the soil. They know where and when to plant, they dig rows and furrows, they water and feed; they take control of the wilderness that any untended yard becomes, and feel the delight of the rewards of their work. This is, in fact, how any dedicated professional addresses their job. Order and control insure that things run smoothly, and when things run smoothly, projects and businesses are successful. But this orderly planting isn’t the type of sowing Jesus has in mind.
Have you ever taken a child into the garden to let him or her “help you” while you work? It’s an interesting experience. Hand a child a package of seeds, but be sure you don’t care exactly where they germinate. After all the time we spend on orderly rows and neat, weed free beds, watch a child rip open a package of seeds and dump them into a chubby hand. Tiny seeds soon become airborne when an eager toddler blows them into the wind and watches, squealing with glee, as they fall to earth.
Some seeds will fall on the freshly turned earth, others will travel into the grass, and still others may make it as far as the sidewalk. Children sow with unbounded delight and joy, spreading their happiness, their love with the seeds. This is the type of sowing of which Jesus speaks to us today.
A sower went out to sow.
Who is the sower? Is it Jesus, the disciples, or even us? When we stop to consider it, anyone who spreads the Gospel is sowing the Good News – so what Matthew does today on one level is repeat a parable that is helpful to all those who will take upon themselves the yoke Jesus spoke of last week, the yoke that requires that we live lives that testify to His love.
Some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up… And Jesus explains: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
The sower could be a friend or family member who offers us gifts of peace, love or forgiveness that we cannot accept because of anger, fear, resentment, or even a sense of worthlessness. If the message is prematurely or carelessly sown, we may hear the word of the kingdom, the message of love, but we may not be ready to understand or accept it. Or perhaps the sower is killed or somehow ostracized. In all these situations the Good News is snatched away, and the whispering voice of God inside us is stilled.
Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away… And Jesus says to us: As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
Perhaps we hear the Good News from a counselor, a priest, or even a spirit-filled friend or colleague whose healing charisma touches us, warms and protects us. We bask in new feelings of hope and determination, because we have taken part in a retreat or a marriage encounter weekend, or have joined AA, or some other type of support group. We resolve to follow through with what has been proposed to us – whether that task is praying frequently, taking time to really listen to our spouse or friend or family member, calling a relative who needs our love and support, or spending an hour a week with someone who is lonely. But when the good feelings wear off, we seem to lack the discipline and understanding to do what is required.
Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them… And Jesus says, As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.
Perhaps the sower of the seed is a member of our global community who inspires us to act by the example of their life. Perhaps we are challenged by a book, or a prayer that strikes a resonant chord in our being. But then, the cares of the world, the drive to have more money, to attain prestige, to be thinner, sexier or younger looking, all the worldly accolades we strive for, besides the stresses of caring for our health and family, providing for our wellbeing, and contributing to church and community, come and choke out the planted seed or deaden our fragile new way of being.
Our modern-day lives are filled with pressures that thrive in our society with its heavy emphasis on consumerism, materialism and individualism. Yet, as life becomes harder, as the world presses in and we fear being able to respond even to basic demands, it becomes even more important that we are the people who can hear, who have eyes that will see that it is Jesus to whom we must turn for support, comfort, strength, help and healing
The sowers of the Word are our friends, family, priests, prophets and contemporary saints. But we need to remember that we too are called to be sowers of the seed, to be people who have received the Good News with joy, flourished, and spread the joy abroad. The only way we can both receive and sow, is to not be the ones in control. Not the makers of neat rows and furrows, not the ones in charge, keeping everything orderly according to our own ideas and prejudices.
The only way for us to receive and sow is to surrender to the God who loves us, yet this is almost impossible for us to do in our present day world – a world that sees self-realization as being in control of one’s destiny, being responsible and autonomous. But, scary as it may sound, we, who follow Jesus, are not called to this way of being.
Mother Teresa once said, “Holiness consists in doing God’s will with a smile.” Not our will, not God’s will as we think it ought to be done. God’s will! We are the people called to turn to Jesus with open hearts and offer Him ourselves, our souls and bodies, our very lives. When we surrender to Him, then everything clears, everything becomes manageable, everything make sense. Like the child, tearing open the package and joyfully spreading seeds with abandon, we are meant to open our hearts to Jesus and let His love flow through us. This we do through inner silence and quiet prayer – through surrender.
Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty… Jesus explains, As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
When we open ourselves to God, then we bear fruit. The world may laud those straight rows and furrows, the order that make us feel like we are in control, but we have chosen to follow Jesus. We are the people called to surrender ourselves to Him, to be the fertile earth, to allow His love to take root in us and flourish, and to spread the Good News, the seeds of joy, borne on the wind, the Spirit, throughout the world.
Jesus said, “Let anyone with ears listen!”
Let us pray:
Direct us O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favour, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen