This weekend the Church celebrates the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The first reading is a reminder that the Word that goes forth from God always achieves the aim for which it is sent. Is this conviction visible in my approach to God’s promises and in living God’s Word in my life? In the Gospel, the parable of the sower further develops the idea of the type of reception that the Word receives. Which part of the story is most representative of the reception the Word receives in my life? The second reading tells us that the world itself is awaiting the end when the promises of Christ to his followers will be completely fulfilled. How am I waiting; how do I spend my time during this waiting?
First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-11
10 For just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to him who sows
and bread to him who eats,
11 So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 55:10-11 Like the rain and snow, the word comes gently from God, not remaining suspended between heaven and earth, but soaking the earth and being drawn back to God. God’s Spirit is infused into human beings and brings forth divine fruits. The writer of this passage (often called Deutero-Isaiah or Second Isaiah) explains world history as being the result of the omnipotent presence of the word of God. See Wis 8:1; 2 Cor 9:10; John 6:32,35. For Deutero-Isaiah God’s word is not so much a message as it is an event, especially an event as perceived from within the mystery of Israel’s salvation.
Second Reading: Romans 8: 18-23
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. 19 For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; 20 for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; 23 and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 8:18 The glory that awaits believers so far exceeds the sufferings of the present life as to dwarf them into insignificance.
* 8:19-22 As the rest of creation shares in the penalty of corruption brought about by sin, so too will it share in the benefits of redemption and future glory that comprise the ultimate liberation of God’s people).
* 8:22 Paul considers the destiny of the created world to be tied to the future of believers. The full harvest of the Spirit’s presence will only be realized after patient endurance in steadfast expectation of all that both life and the powers of evil can throw at the follower of Jesus.
* 8:23 The Spirit acts as the firstfruits of redemption, on earth, as a guarantee of the total liberation of the believers’ bodies from the influence of their rebellious old selves.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 13: 1-23
1 On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. 3 And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, 6 and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. 7 Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. 8 But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirty fold. 9 Whoever has ears ought to hear."
10 The disciples approached him and said, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" 11 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. 12 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. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ 14 Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
‘You shall indeed hear but not understand
you shall indeed look but never see.
15 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 heart and be converted,
and I heal them.’
16 "But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. 17 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.
18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 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. 20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. 21 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. 22 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. 23 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 thirty fold."
NOTES on Gospel:
* 13:1 Jesus seems to prefer teaching outside rather than in a more academic setting.
* 13:2 Jesus operated as a Jewish religious teacher or rabbi during His public ministry. Teaching from a boat was odd; the crowd must have been truly great to justify such an odd teaching posture by a rabbi.
* 13:3 A sower is a character that would have appealed to the audience of rural workers.
* 13:3-23 Jesus’ work is effective only to the extent that people are disposed to receive it. Jesus does not force Himself on anyone. At the time of Jesus, there was a popular expectation that the Kingdom of God would come suddenly and transform everything in a flash. This quick fix would require no action on the part of the people. Jesus did not share this expectation.
A parable is a story that goes from something ordinary and well-known to something hidden or not well known. An open mind and heart is required to make the jump and an open, receptive heart is needed to receive and live the insight.
Jesus tells us that the failure of everyone to run to Him is not a sign that God’s power is lacking. Rather it is the way God works. His Kingdom will spring forward among believers, the good soil, a few at a time. The fruitfulness of these who accept the word will more than make up for the rejection of the word among "the poor soil."
* 13:4 The road or path could not be plowed so the seed lay on the surface where the birds could reach it easily.
* 13:5 Much of the land of Palestine is rocky with only a thin layer of soil. Without an adequate depth of soil to provide some protection the seeds sprout too quickly and are not able to develop deep enough roots.
* 13:6 The hot Palestinian sun quickly burns up the inadequately rooted sprouts.
* 13:7 Here the soil is sufficiently deep but there are thorns or weeds already occupying the ground and they are strong enough to quickly choke out the new sprouts.
* 13:8 Where the seed falls on deep soil that is not encumbered with other growth the seeds bear abundantly but not in equal measure.
* 13:9 This exhortation to listen occurs several times in the Gospel of Matthew (11:15; 13:43) and is actually an invitation to think reflectively on the application of the parable. A parable requires that the listener spend some time in the presence of Christ reflecting upon it if it is to have its effect. This saying is a form of a proverbial saying of the time that urged such reflection.
* Matthew follows Mark 4:10 in interrupting the story with a theological consideration. In Mark, Jesus is alone with the disciples, here He is apparently still with the crowd. The answer is difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain. A possible explanation may lie in the idea that the mysteries of the Kingdom are only available to those who open themselves in faith and hope to God’s revelation of His plan of salvation as found in Jesus. Rejection of Jesus makes it impossible to receive the revelation of God.
* 13:11 It is a Semitic trait to ascribe both understanding and lack of understanding on the part of men to an action of God. It is a way of stating that absolute control of everything is in God’s hands.
* 13:13 This verse seems to include a paraphrase of a popular proverb of the time which referred to those who might see what they overlook through folly or inattention. The crowd are closed to the meaning of the parable because they are closed to Jesus. The parables are not math puzzles that can be solved on your own. They make sense only when we stay close to Jesus and open our hearts to Him. Mt 13:13 somewhat softens this saying which comes from Isa 6:9.
* 13:14-15 This is the full quote from Isa 6:9 which is alluded to in verse 13.
* 13:18-23 As in Mark 4:10-12 the parable is reinterpreted as an allegory here. Each element in the story is made to stand for something else.
* 13:19 The seed is identified as the "word of the kingdom." Failure to receive it is a failure of understanding not of hearing. The "evil one" is a more vague reference than the Satan of Mark 4:15. The failure takes place in the heart.
* 13:23 Verses 18 to 23 address the situation of the church after the Resurrection. Mixed reactions will also occur as responses to the mission of the Church and even within the Church. Not all who say they accept the Gospel will persevere. There is a temptation to preach only to each other, where we know that the Gospel will be accepted. That, however, is not the ministry of Jesus nor is it the ministry given to the Church by Jesus. We must spread the word as did the sower onto all kinds of ground. The abundant fruit of those who accept the Gospel and persevere in it will greatly overshadow the failures that will occur in providing for the growth of the kingdom.