15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
Isaiah 55:10-11 – Romans 8:18-23 – Matthew 13:1-23.
In relating the Parable of the Sower, Our Lord used a picture to which every inhabitant of Palestine could relate. You need to be aware, however, that a vital point is overlooked in most translations of the Bible (and you’ll find it in the Parish Mass Book too): there is a mistranslation of the original Greek ò σπειρων as ‘a sower’ when it should be ‘the sower’. The mistranslation matters, because Jesus was not simply using someone carrying out farm work in the fertile fields around the shore at the time to make a point. Jesus was certainly speaking of Himself as ‘The Sower’. In today’s Gospel, Our Lord had to raise His voice to make Himself heard and understood by people. He made a boat His pulpit, and He taught from it offshore, using the water to amplify His voice in order to get His message across. He, the Word of God, spoken silently for the purpose of Creation, is the teacher/preacher and the Sower/Spreader of the Word of God to people made in the image of God. Human beings are equipped not only with intellect and will, but also with varied temperaments and dispositions, and with consciences at various stages of development. The parable is about receptivity to grace, and it identifies differing environments or ‘soils’ that affect the spiritual harvest of the word of God. Our Lord, the Sower, scatters His grain generously, open-handedly, risking the loss of some of it to gain a good harvest. He identifies for us the challenges associated with the mission of the Church to spread the word of God throughout the world.
The Parable of the Sower is the only parable that Jesus explained to the apostles. In it, He identified environments into which the grain of the gospel is sown and compared them to the degrees of receptivity of the human heart. The four environments are the wayside or pathway, the rocky ground, the thorny ground and the good soil. The soil of the pathway is trodden down as hard as a pavement by the public. In this environment, the seed does not grow because it cannot grow. There is nothing there to promote growth. The rocky ground has a sufficient covering of soil to permit the seed to survive for a while, but growth is minimal. How come? Well, in some parts of Palestine, immediately below the soil is limestone. The limestone retains the rain plus the heat from the sunlight just below the surface, so in this environment the seed sprouts quickly enough. It can’t put down roots, though, because of the limestone. The thorny ground also looks good outwardly after it’s been cleared of surface weeds and thorns, but the environment is no good for cultivation. Beneath the surface remains an impenetrable chain of roots, ready to burst forth with new and unwanted growth to overwhelm and choke the life out of the seed sown in it. It is impossible for the seed to thrive. The good soil, which has been fully prepared by the Sower, is deep enough and nutrient-rich enough and attended-to enough to allow the seed to germinate, to sprout and to bear a rich harvest. The heart that invites and allows the word of God to affect the entirety of its being is represented by this environment of ‘good soil’.
It’s important to remember that each one of us is going to be held accountable for the kind of heart we develop during our lifetime. Is it going to be obdurate, proud and secular, like the hardness of the wayside path; superficial, insubstantial and shallow, like the stony ground; deceptive, delusory and delusional, like the thorny ground; or soft, cultivated, nourished and nurtured, like the rich ground? Just as the Lord makes the rain and the snow to fall down to water the earth and does not return to the heavens until it accomplishes its purpose (Is 55:10), so too, the word of God falls on every heart. The good heart that we want to develop is tender towards God, and it is recognisable because it actively does three things: it listens, it understands, and it obeys. The good heart is never too proud to listen to God; it is open to the Word and walks trustingly and consciously in it throughout the day, every day. The good heart makes sure it understands the gospel, takes it on board and puts it into practice in its daily life. The good heart obeys God by putting the word of God into action. That is how the good heart produces a plentiful harvest.
In Prov 4:23, the writer admonishes us to keep our hearts with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. He was absolutely correct! Together with God, we are the farmers, the cultivators, of our hearts. To keep our hearts with all vigilance and to guide our hearts away from losing the see on the first three ‘soils’ entails each one of us in discovering how best to make our heart fertile enough for the seed sown in it by God to sprout and bear a harvest. The knowledge and experience of the farmer, and how he goes about cultivation, determines to a great extent the fertility of the farmland. So, let me ask you: as the farmer of your heart (and by ‘heart’, I mean your soul, including your whole personality), have you discovered the way to fertilise and enrich it? What are you growing in your heart? Today there are so many distractions that can mar your heart, that can limit your progression towards eternal bliss, that can limit the degree of beatitude to which you can attain. You have free will, and your choice of newspapers, magazines, books, websites and social media reflects how superficial you are (on rocky or stony ground) or how subject to illusion in terms of “the cares of the world and the delight in riches” (Mk 4:19) you are (on thorny ground), or how open to God’s grace you are through the Church and the Sacraments (in rich soil). What stuff you gather from these publishing sources, and how they affect your heart, really matters, both in the present moment and in eternity. A true way of taking care of your heart is to embrace the Word of God…to allow the word to speak to you in the very depth of your heart. Search the scriptures, for in them are treasures for eternal life (Jn 5:39). Ensuring a great harvest involves great commitment! Each one of us must devote a significant amount of time to reading, absorbing, meditating upon and obeying the Word if we want to produce the rich harvest of the good soil.
And finally… the Parable of the Sower reveals Jesus’ assurance to us that, despite the challenges connected with the sowing of the seeds – the wayside, the stony ground and the thorny ground – the harvest will ultimately be plentiful. There is more than enough good soil to assure a harvest of thirty-fold, sixty-fold or a hundred-fold from the widely- and generously-flung grain. A rich harvest at the end is guaranteed, even though through their own choice, not every person ends up contributing to it. Not everybody ends up in Heaven via Purgatory. When we apply this sharp truth in relation to Isaiah in the First Reading and to St. Paul in the Second Reading, we discover why every word from the mouth of God accomplishes its purpose, and why the whole of creation groans for the revelation of this rich harvest; that is, for the final fulfilment of the Word of God. Let me conclude with this prayer: Lord Jesus, make my heart into good soil: when it is hard, break it to dust so that your Word may be sown in it; when it is cold, warm it so that your Word may sprout and grow in it; and when it is choked with the cares of this world, disentangle it and free it so that it may mature to produce the harvest of beatific vision. Amen. God bless you.