First Reading Isaiah 55:10–11
Psalm Psalm 65:10–14
Second Reading Romans 8:18–23
Gospel Matthew 13:1–23
Gospel – Matthew 13:1–23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn– and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell 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. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Hearing the Word
“GROWING THROUGH THE WORD”
At all times, maintaining a consistent progress in faith has been a challenge for Christians. How can a person continue to grow in his or her knowledge of God and Christ, and advance in the Christian way of life? The liturgy of the fifteenth Sunday shows that such continuous growth is possible through a consistent focus on God’s word.
Today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah comes from the second part of his book, the so-called “second Isaiah” (chs. 40–55) which contains the message of comfort for the Israelites enduring the Babylonian exile. They were promised the end of captivity and return to their land (cf. Isa 55:12). Hearing such promises, the exiles, after nearly forty years in a foreign land, might have doubted that they would ever come true. Today’s short passage aims to reassure them that God’s words and promises would not fail. To make this point the prophet uses a very simple analogy between water and its effects on nature, and God’s word and its effect on history.
Chapter 55 of Isaiah begins with the invitation to the thirsting people, “come to the waters” (Isa 55:1). Water, a precious resource in the semi-deserts of the Near East, is offered as a free gift, reflecting God’s intent of securing life for his people. Just as the water brings life to the parched land and never fails to do so, so will God’s promises be effective in restoring freedom to the exiles. They are to rely on the Word of God, given through the prophet, as surely as one can rely on the falling rain to make seeds sprout from the earth. Rain and snow make the earth fruitful in order to provide sustenance for physical bodies. Equally, God’s word coming down upon human beings nourishes their souls by giving hope and reassurance. The people of Isaiah’s time needed nourishment for their hope of returning to the lost land. This nourishment was provided by the powerful guarantee that God’s word will not fail, and the promised return will happen. Indeed, in 539 BC this promise was fulfilled when the edict of freedom was issued, and the Israelites were allowed to return to Judah. The entire chapter makes a powerful argument about the trustworthiness and reliability of God’s words because he chose to make “his everlasting covenant”, one which will not fail, with his chosen ones (cf. Isa 55:2-3).
The second reading continues with Paul’s presentation on the new life thorough the gift of the Spirit, which begun in the last’s Sunday second reading. The indwelling of the Spirit makes the faithful God’s children and heirs to God’s promises. Living in union with Christ they look forward to being glorified, which means living eternal life in God’s glory. At the same time, Paul fully realizes that the life of God’s children on earth is permeated by suffering. Just as Christ suffered, so his followers, including Paul, experience tribulations and pains which are an inevitable part of life in the here and now. Remarkably, Paul states that the entire creation – the animal world and all else – also suffers in this present condition. This fallen state of humanity and creation was caused by the human fall described in Genesis ch. 3. The consequences of this disaster continue to affect everything. But then, Paul counterbalances his grim assessment of the present condition with the prospect of future glory and “redemption of the body”, which means resurrection and life eternal. When humanity will be thus restored, the entire creation will be renewed with it. Today’s passage, while acknowledging the current condition of corruption and pain, is permeated by vibrant hope for the future, the hope that provides strength and determination to confront the difficulties and suffering of the present age.
This hope is rooted in God’s promises contained and revealed through his word. Paul discusses these promises extensively in 1 Corinthians 15, but their essence is most straightforwardly expressed in 1 John 2:25: “the promise he made you himself is eternal life”. God’s promises contained in his word not only give hope but also make the faithful long for their fulfillment. This longing enlivens and motivates the faithful to continuously pursue growth and progress in their Christian life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is also the “guarantee” of the salvation yet to come (cf. 2 Cor 5:5).
The Gospel passage begins Jesus’ discourse in parables (Matt ch. 13). The first and the most elaborate parable, called the parable of the sower, focuses on the word of God delivered by Jesus and its effects. Like Isaiah, the parable employs images derived from agriculture and nature to make its point. The sower, Jesus, “sows” the word of the Kingdom. He brings God’s word into the world, but the responses differ depending on the “soil”, which represents the human heart. The human heart can be hard, like a “path”, and “the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown”, because the word was not understood. Or, the heart can be like a “rocky ground” which produces a quick and spontaneous response which, sadly, lasts only a moment because it “has no root”. Or the seed of the word can be sown among “thorns” which represent the “cares of the world and the lure of wealth” that eventually choke the word. These are the responses of those who hear the word but are either unable to accept it or fail to hold on and respond to it. The only soil that produces fruit is the heart of “the one who hears the word and understands it”. Here lies the core of the parables’ message – the word is widely accessible, but it demands a response through hearing and understanding. “Hearing” represents the reception of the word with due recognition of its importance, while “understanding” implies a serious effort to comprehend its true meaning through reflection and study. Jesus explained the parable to the disciples, and, when they understood it, they were called “blessed”. Indeed, serious acceptance and study of Jesus word leads to blessedness.
Today’s liturgy makes a powerful point regarding the role of God’s word in Christian life. Isaiah, appealing to nature but actually referring to the history of Israel, stated that God’s word is utterly reliable and trustworthy, and the promises contained therein never fail. Paul, discussing the present condition of believers, showed how the prospect of the future salvation, revealed by God’s word, makes Christians long for the fulfillment of God’s promises. This longing is like a fire within the heart which makes believers search unceasingly for ever new ways to live out their faith. Jesus taught that one can be his disciple only through mindful acceptance of, and a serious effort at understanding God’s word revealed through him. In sum, the path to continuous Christian growth lies in openness to being animated by God’s word which reassures, nourishes hope and stimulates growth in faith. The word of God is at the heart of authentic Christian life because, using the words of the Psalmist, through it God can “visit the earth and water it, … to greatly enrich it”.
Listening to the Word of God
A mentally ill patient on the streets of Accra gave me a profound teaching on the power of spoken words. This “madman” in his tattered clothes would often visit the parish where I lived and worked. For some reason, I enjoyed listening to him. One day, he said to me, “put your hand close to your mouth and speak.” I obeyed. He asked me, “what do you feel?” I responded, “I feel the effect of my breath on my hand.” He then said, “just as your words come with a breath, the word of God also comes with his Spirit.” I was stunned and elated to hear that profound statement from such an unlikely source. The message was clear: if the words of human beings can be felt, then certainly the ability of the Word of the Lord to bring about a change in the life of a person is guaranteed.
There is a proverb which says, “A king does not need to shout for his words to be powerful.” In other words, the very fact of being a king makes his public declaration authoritative. When the king issues a command, his attendants quickly go into action to enact what the ruler has said. Similarly, the words of the almighty God, the King of kings, are not without effect. He spoke words of salvation and deliverance to a distressed and broken people in exile in Babylon. In due time, those words bore fruit and the Israelites were freed and allowed to return to their homeland. Indeed, the Word of the Lord does not return to him empty and unfulfilled. It accomplishes that which the Lord who spoke it intended, and succeeds in bringing to reality that which it declared.
Jesus likens the Word of God to a seed. By doing so, he communicates the most essential characteristic of God’s Word, that is, its capacity to bring forth life. We do not make the Word of God alive, as it is already full of life. However, we can either draw upon it and accept this life of to reject it and wither.
A seed is essentially an embryo in a protective coat, waiting in suspended animation until proper warmth, moisture and sufficient time make germination possible. The power of a seed goes unnoticed by the eye, until it takes root in the right place and at the right time. Herein lies the necessity for human cooperation. The Word of God comes freely but we have a responsibility to make the soil of our heart good; our personal disposition is essential.
Come to think of it, we always hear the Word of God at Church services and in other places, and yet the lives of many of us remain untransformed. One of the major reasons for this is that many of us are unable to hold onto the Word for a significant period of time. We often allow Satan to deceive us and rob us of the Word, or in the face of trials, we give up.
In search of fruitfulness or, what people sometimes refer to as “breakthroughs”, many people, unfortunately, embark on a wild goose chase. They search for fruits in their lives, whereas the soil of their heart is arid. They despise the Word of God, but still hope to find happiness, and experience tangible evidence of the presence of God in their lives. It is only when we are willing to hold onto the word wholeheartedly and consistently that we will bear fruits.
As I look at my life today I ask: “What impact does the Word of God have on my life?”.
Can I point out any fruits the Word of God has produced in my personal world?
Response to God
In the course of this week I will memorize a single verse from the Scripture and use it for prayer throughout the day.
Response to your World
I will chose a passage or even a line or a word from the Scripture and live it out in some concrete and practical way in the course of this week.
In our group, we will have a prayer meeting devoted to sharing our own personal testimonies of how the Word of God has impacted on our lives and transformed us.
Lord God, we come before you as an arid soil, thirsty for water. May your living word pour forth as rain into our hearts and cause the seed of holiness that was sown in our hearts at baptism to bear fruit. Amen.