July 12, 2020: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, and for the next two Sundays, we are going to listen to Jesus’ most famous parable– the parable of “The Sower.”

A parable is a figure of speech.  So while Jesus talks about a seed, what He hopes that we understand is something more about the presence of His Father in our lives — how we receive the life-giving word and truth of God, how we take it in, what we do with it…

So I am going to read the parable, most probably, the 1st way it was told by Jesus…

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Matthew 13:1 – 9

That same day Jesus…  sat by the sea.  And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat… and the crowd stood on the beach.  And he told them…

“A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path… where the birds came and ate them.  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil…  And since they had no root, they withered away.  Other seeds fell on thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.  Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundred-fold, some sixty, some thirty.  He who has ears, let him hear.”

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The second part of the parable was written in the latter part of the first century after Jesus had died and risen and reflects Jesus’ teaching right before his death.

Jesus began to draw his true disciples away from the crowds who wanted him to do miracles for them and who wanted to follow him for the wrong reasons.

So his disciples who were really open to what he had to say began to ask him why he was changing his focus.

So when the Gospel writer Matthew writes his gospel, he acknowledges the change in focus.  Jesus’ later audience of disciples wants to know why he speaks to them in parables.  

And Jesus tells them because this is the only way that he can get them to learn spiritual truths that will endure.

Spiritual truths make sense when you live life on a deeper level, more than literal meanings and focused on activities.

Second Part of Today’s Parable

Here is what Matthew writes, inspired by Jesus’ teachings.

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Matthew 13:10-17

The disciples approached him and said,

“Why do you speak to them in parables?”

He said to them in reply,

“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven

has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.

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.

This is why I speak to them in parables, because

they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:

You shall indeed hear but not understand,

you shall indeed look but never see.

Gross is the heart of this people,

they will hardly hear with their ears,

they have closed their eyes,

lest they see with their eyes

and hear with their ears

and understand with their hearts and be converted,

and I heal them.

“But 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,

and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

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Jesus says that hearing what he has to say is more than hearing words or figuring out ideas.  Jesus says we have to listen with our hearts and ask Jesus’ Father to help us understand the deeper and spiritual foundations of our lives.  In fact, Matthew quotes Isaiah the Prophet:

“Gross is the heart of this people” (Gross meaning indecent, vulgar, obscene).  “They will hardly hear with their ears; They have closed their eyes…  lest they understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.”

That is why Jesus stopped doing big public events and crowds.  He had little time left, to prepare his disciples to follow up on what he would start.

Last Part of Today’s Parable:

This last paragraph is a late 1st century homily on the original parable.  Jesus had died and rose.  Persecution by Jewish leaders wanting to remove all influence of Jesus from the late 1st century was increasing.  The luster of Jesus’ presence was running out of gas.  So Matthew is asking people to recommit, not to slough off.  What is in the heart?  Only there do we find God and Jesus His Son and our brother.

Let us read the last part of the parable.

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Matthew 13: 18-23

“Hear then the parable of the sower.

The seed sown on the path is the one

who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,

and the evil one comes and steals away

what was sown in his heart.

The seed sown on rocky ground

is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.

But he has no root and lasts only for a time.

When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,

he immediately falls away.

The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,

but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word

and it bears no fruit.

But the seed sown on rich soil

is the one who hears the word and understands it,

who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Next, let’s return to the assuring words of the Prophet Isaiah, God speaking: “So shall my word that goes forth from my mouth… not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

Is that an exaggeration?  Because we seem to have the power to squash everything by our will, by our neglect, or by our lack of interest.

There are many people who challenge God today because what God says is boring, shackles us, and stirs up our guilt.

At times, we think that God is “all wet” when it comes to God; nevertheless, God has sown the seeds of life and truth and goodness into each one of us

What we do to these gifts might stir up God’s sadness, but rarely his impatience  or a lack of care.

Every time we hear this parable, Jesus is asking us “do we want to throw it all away?  How long are you going to do your own thing?”

In the second reading, St. Paul expresses God’s hope for all of us today: Creation is groaning in labor pains like a mother in the process of giving birth.  And we, too, need to groan as if we were giving birth to our new self.

In hope,” St. Paul writes, “to be set free from slavery to corruption and to share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

Those who heard this parable when Jesus first shared it thought he was crazy.  The yield of their crop never got more than 10 or 15 percent.  And Jesus promised at least 30, maybe 60 and even hundredfold.

The catch to all of this and to the spiritual life is the last sentence in the original parable: “Whoever has ears ought to hear” or better translated, “whoever has ears ought to listen.”

Let us develop the skill to listen, well and often, and then watch ourselves develop as God would like us to do.

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