Year A: Fifteenth Sunday Ordinary Time
The Parable of the Sower
Matthew 13: 1-23
On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
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 heart 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.
“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.”
- When do you feel resistant to God’s word? What value do you think there is in examining your resistance?
- Describe a time when God’s word truly took root in your heart and bore fruit in your life? Tell the story
- When have you tried to be a witness to your faith to people who are resistant? What behaviors on your part do you think add to people’s resistance? What behaviors diminish people’s resistance?
Sr. Mary McGlone CSJ
Matthew tells us that the parable discourse we are about to hear began on the same day that Jesus declared that everyone who does God’s will is mother, brother and sister to him. According to Matthew, after speaking like that to a group of “insiders,” Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea where a great crowd gathered to hear him.
Although the parable of the sower, seed and soil is quite long, Matthew copies it almost without change from his source in Mark. (Luke condenses it a little and changes more vocabulary than Matthew.) Matthew does make one significant addition. In verses 14-16 he elaborates on the citation of Isaiah 6:9-10, explaining that knowledge of the kingdom of heaven is granted only to some. As Ben Witherington explains in The Gospel of Mark: “The parables give insight to the open-minded but come as a judgment on the obdurate…listening intently is the necessary prerequisite to understanding because no one has this knowledge already within them.”
Aside from the explanation that Jesus himself gives, this Gospel hints much more at what it takes to receive the word of God. The key to the whole story is that the good soil was receptive. We see what that means by looking to the disciples who admitted that Jesus had confused them. “Why do you speak to them in parables?” was a question that really meant “We don’t get it!” That was exactly the attitude they needed for Jesus to be able to break through to them, for the seed of his word to go deep into the interior space they opened with their questions.
Just as the planting and harvesting were ongoing activities, so too the word of God comes again and again, begging a hearing. When it comes to having ears to hear, this Gospel assures us that questions are more fruitful than answers.
You Are a Word
There are many ways to preach the word of God. The ordained have the privilege and responsibility to preach formally — the homily — during the communal celebration of the liturgy. But what is it to preach? To preach is to live by the Gospel mandates. To preach is to break open the word of God for and with those whom we encounter. Preaching may take place at a Scripture study or a religious education gathering. Perhaps preaching is encountered at a retreat or while sitting by someone on the back porch discussing the daily readings. Admittedly, this is a broad perspective of preaching and, at its heart, preaching is an act of evangelization.
By virtue of the teaching and formation ministry in which I am involved, I am embedded in the Dominican culture and tradition. Dominican men and women, by vocation, are preachers. Embedded in any culture or tradition for any length of time, a person begins to embody that which surrounds and enfolds him or her. Among qualities of the Dominican charism which find special resonance with me is that of sacra praedicatio — sacred preaching … a sacred word.
The tradition of the sacra praedicatio, put simply, is this: St. Dominic understood that the whole church preached the Gospel when the whole church lived the Gospel. He understood that the word spoken and lived in its fullest is the sacred preaching done by clerics and lay women and men alike. And, even now this is done by lay men and women, by religious and by the ordained.
We hear today in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah that just as rain and snow come down and do not return to the heavens until they water the earth so too the word of God comes forth from God’s mouth and does not return until it is accomplishes the will of God.
In Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples: “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears because they hear.” We have in this proclamation the acknowledgment of the Word spoken by God — Jesus himself. The Word uttered from God’s mouth lived, forgave, taught, hoped, suffered, died and rose; this Word completely — and for all time — accomplished the will of God. Do we see and hear? Are we blessed?
The word is paradoxically still accomplishing the will of God through the power of the Spirit in each of our lives. For me there is a resonance between this message and my life as sacra praedicatio. I am a word spoken into being by God. We are the words that have come forth from the mouth of God in this day and age. We are the words that will not return to God until we achieve the end for which God sent us.
What is the word of God that you need to speak by your life fully lived? Is it a word of kindness and compassion? Is it a word of redress and challenge? Is it a word of forgiveness and healing? Is it a word of guidance? Sustenance? Nurture? Liberation? Is it the word of love?
We are a word spoken by God. Who we become in this life gives voice to that word. For those who have eyes to see and those who have ears to hear … what word will they hear in their hearts because of our life well-lived in resonance with the Gospel message? How will we each be a sacra praedicatio in this world, in our workplace, in our neighborhood and in our families? How will we as words spoken by God, accomplish the will of God through the action of the Word in, with and through us so that we, too, might water a parched creation?