6 PENTECOST, PROPER X - A - 17 MATTHEW 13.1-9,18-23
Today’s gospel is the beginning of a series of parables of the kingdom Jesus presents in the 13th chapter of Matthew. Parables are stories in word-pictures, revealing spiritual truths. The Hebrew and Aramaic words for parable also mean “allegory,” “riddle,” or “proverb.” Matthew is not the only gospel filled with parables. All four contain images drawn from daily life to represent and communicate the deeper things of God.
The truth communicated by Jesus’ parables, however, is not evident to all who hear them. The listener must have spiritual ears to hear, and even then, not all have the same degree of understanding. Individuals are responsible for their own receptivity. Parables challenge the hearer and call for faith to perceive the mysteries of the kingdom.
The use of parables was known in Jewish culture long before Jesus. Christ, however, brought the art of parables to perfection, relating aspects of the kingdom and speaking of God himself through vivid stories. His purpose was not only to reveal truth to those with hearts prepared. He wished to draw responsive hearts past the entrance and into the very reality of God’s kingdom, which he proclaimed and inaugurated.
In today’s gospel, we have one of the few parables Jesus goes on to explain to his disciples in an attempt to leave no doubt to its true meaning. It is interesting that he delivers it, not on land among a group of farmers, but while standing in a boat a little off shore on the Sea of Galilee most likely to a mixed audience, many of which made their living from the sea.
The parable reflects Jesus’ experience in his appeal to Israel, which is now drawing to a close. He is speaking directly to those who will be his messengers. He warns that much of their work in proclaiming the coming kingdom will be wasted effort, but promising them that God will bring forth results far exceeding their expectations as a way of encouraging them in their efforts.
The parable is filled with symbolism. The symbolism of the “soil,” for example, represents those who listen, or in some cases, those who refuse to listen. The “seed” of course is the gospel message, the coming of God’s kingdom, and the sewer is Christ.
After telling the parable, Jesus leaves the majority of the crowd. It is up to the individual to be open and receptive to the message. Each person who hears it has to interpret it for him or herself and discover what it means to them. To most of them, it should have been obvious especially to the disciples.
In the verses that are missing between Jesus telling the parable and his interpretation, however, the disciples have asked him what it meant. To them he gives the answer. Our hearts are the “soil” where the seeds of God’s word are sown. If they are closed, he says, like a well-beaten path, the seed takes no root. It is the enemy, Jesus says, which has closed our hearts to God.
While some might teach a person is permanently saved at the moment he or she professes faith, a view never held by the historic church, the teaching of Jesus is clear that it is possible to believe for a while and then fall away. Thus the one who hears and endures for a while, but again whose faith has no root, sadly falls away when trouble, hardship or disappointment arises.
Then there are the “thorns.” That is, the cares and concerns of the world that “chokes” out the word of God and thus produces no fruitfulness. That individual is too concerned with the things of this world, and or his or her own self-interests. The word of God cannot possibly grow in their hearts. There is simply no room for God.
The good soil is the heart that is open and receptive to God’s word. These are the ones who hear it and respond to it. Hearts and minds must appropriate the living word if there is to be fruitfulness.
Those who are receptive to the message of the kingdom manifest their “hearing” in the changes their understanding of God’s word makes in their lives. As St. Paul would say, they live no longer to themselves but to Him who died and rose again.
If we are honest with ourselves, we can all look back over our own journey to God and see times and places when our response to God represented each one of these “soil conditions.” We all had those times when we were closed to the gospel message altogether. At other times, we welcomed it but then something happened to turn us away from God.
In addition, we all struggled with, and still do, with the “thorns.” That is, the things of this world that catch our attention and hold our focus, that seemed so important at the time. Jesus would say that it is the enemy who continues to hold them up to us as being attractive. It is his way of tempting us away from God.
But can we recall what it was that broke open the hard pan of our hearts? What was it that caused us to hang on to our faith when we wanted to give it up? When did we finally realize that the things of this world that at one time meant everything to us did not satisfy our soul and what we needed was God?
What was it that finally drew us past the entrance and into the reality of God’s kingdom and enabled us to finally “hear” God’s message of salvation? God’s love opens our hearts to Him. God pursues us through His love for us in His Son, Jesus Christ who died and rose again.
Jesus’ spent his earthly life in an effort to get God’s people to “listen.”
The parable begins that way. That is the way the kingdom message is received by hearing, truly hearing.
Each of us, like those in the crowd along side the seashore that day have to allow God’s word to resonate in our hearts, mull it over in our minds and then respond out of love according to his or her native capacity.
God did not give each and everyone of us the same capacity, the same gifts and talents. Rather He gave us a plethora of gifts that are meant to be used in concert as the Body of Christ to produce much fruit in advancing His kingdom on earth. Recall the parable of the talents. One was given three, another two, and another one.
Likewise, Jesus is telling us, that what is sown on good soil is the one who hears and understand God’s message and learns to cooperate with His Spirit.
To hear and understand and to cooperate with God’s Holy Spirit enables us to bear fruit that will yield in some cases, a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. AMEN+