Fifteenth Sunday in
July 13, 2002 Cycle A
by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
First Reading - Isaiah 55:10-11
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14
Second Reading - Romans 8:18-23
Gospel - Matthew 13:01-23
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
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; for 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.
"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 thirty-fold."
This past week, I celebrated my one month anniversary of priesthood. I don't think I'm going to keep doing this from month to month, though, but I have to say that other than saying Mass, celebrating the Sacrament of Penance is awesome. I'm always looking for more customers, so if you know of anyone who can use my services, please send them my way. I was with a priest friend a few years back and we were stopped by a police officer because my priest friend was speeding. As it turned out, the officer was the very guy who directs traffic out of father's church parking lot on Sundays. Both father and the officer were really embarrassed by the whole incident, so father said, "Look, Jim - you've got to do your job. Write me up." The officer replied, "Father, I can't give a priest a ticket - why don't you say three Hail Mary's, and we'll call it even. You're forgiven. Just be careful, ok?"
Onto more serious matters:
Many of you here may be familiar with the name Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou is a famous contemporary American poet and she served as the poet laureate under the Clinton Administration during the last decade. I've never heard her deliver any of her poetry in person but any time I've had the chance to see her read her poetry on television, I have always been struck at the measured way in which she speaks. It's as if every word is calculated and carefully crafted. I guess that's the work of poets - to use words well. A few years ago, I was watching a special program on Maya Angelou and was struck by a story about her when she was about 7 years old. Maya had the unfortunate experience of being an eyewitness to a murder. During the trial that followed, she was the star-witness of the defense, who believed that the police had accused the wrong man of the crime. However, a very crafty prosecuting attorney was able to twist Maya's testimony to make his case and because of what she said, the wrong man was sent to prison. Maya was so traumatized by what had happened and was so overwhelmed by the power of her words that she barely spoke another word for the next 6 years of her life. She says that during this time, she learned how to measure each word carefully and to speak accurately because she knew well how important words can be. It may be the reason shy she's such a great poet. She knows what words can convey.
The reason I tell this little aside is because our readings today, are all about the power of the word. In this case, the Word is the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and splendor of the Father. The idea of the power of the Word is found all over the Old Testament. In Genesis, it is God's word that begins the project of creation. In our first reading, Isaiah likens the word of God to a seed sown by the farmer that bears fruit and achieves the end for which it was intended.
This motif of the power of the Word of God is the central piece of today's Gospel. In some translations of the Scriptures, this passage is known as the Parable of the Sower - the emphasis is on Jesus, the sower of the seed, which is the living Word of God. However, other translations of this same passage refer to it as the Parable of the Four Soils - a direct reference to each of us, who are the different kinds of soils in the parable.
Recall that there are four types of soil - each of us fit into the different categories. I would suggest that none of us are strictly any one kind of soil. We're more like combination platters. We all have areas in our lives where we are like the deep, rich and hearty soil. Unfortunately, we also have areas in our lives where the word cannot take root and bear fruit. The challenge is to identify those areas of our lives which are not receptive to God's word, and then cooperate with His grace so as to come to deeper conversion. This journey will require us to become meek, humble, down to earth (if you will) and truly receptive to what God asks of us.
So, Jesus says that there are four types of soil - the first three are problematic; the 4th type is the good stuff. We see the first three types of soil play themselves out in our daily lives:
* Maybe it is our lack of desire to let go of grudges or other forms of anger
* Maybe it's our unwillingness to root out those things in our life that lead to sexual impurity with others or with ourselves
* Maybe it's our pride; our attachment to our opinion or our gifts and talents or our material possessions
* Maybe it's our lack of desire to pray or to witnesses to the faith when it is attacked in the workplace or among peers
* Maybe it's our lack of self-mastery when it comes to gossip and back-biting
* Maybe it's that mythical "special deal" we've worked-out with God which affords us the false luxury of picking and choosing those teachings of the Church which are convenient or fit our lifestyle and discarding the difficult ones; areas where we don't think the Church has a right to speak about
* Maybe it's just our plain luke-warmness and lack of belief in the Eucharist that causes us to relegate our Catholicism to an hour on Sundays
Whatever form our bad soils take, one thing is quite clear: without rich soil, the seed cannot endure. Without the seed, there is no fruit. Without fruit, there is no hope. We should then feel a sense of urgency to get our gardens in order so as to yield the rich fruit of virtue and piety.
Our Responsorial Psalm expresses the desire that each of us should have in becoming good soil for the seed - the Word of God. May we join the Psalmist in the confidence that indeed, "The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest," - a harvest of true faith, firm hope and lively charity so that we may accept the Word of God in our life and bear much fruit.
Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, the notion of the power of God's word was very familiar to the Jews - they were and are people of the Word. The uniqueness of Christianity is that the pursuit of God became not so much a pursuit of the word or the law of the Jews, but that the Word became a person - Jesus Christ - the word made flesh who dwelt among us. The genius of Catholicism is that the word is not only a person but a sacrament - the Eucharist, the very body, blood, soul and divinity of God who is made really present at the consecration in the hands of the priest and the very person who feeds us with not only the Word but with his very self.
Like Mary, who accepted the Word of God into her life so as to become our first tabernacle, may each of us be truly receptive to God's plan for us, made present in the Word and made alive in the Eucharist.
Praise Be Jesus Christ!