FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
JULY 15-16, 2017
ISAIAH 55:10-11; ROMANS 8:18-23; MATTHEW 13:1-23
In the first reading in this Sunday’s liturgy, one sentence taken from the prophet Isaiah, has been chosen as an introduction to the Gospel passage, the parable of the sower. Isaiah’s teaching is about God’s communication with the human family. He uses the image of God’s greatest gift, and our most essential commodity, water. It comes from heaven in the snow and rain that water the earth “making it fertile and fruitful.” It’s the source of all life. Without water nothing can live or grow. Without water there can be no food, no “bread to the one who eats.” In a similar way the word of God is essential to our lives. It makes our lives fruitful and fertile – truly alive.
Jesus’ parable of the sower also looks at the dynamic of God’s communication with us, but he has a different take from Isaiah. God is presented as a sower who is lavishly tossing seeds across a varied landscape. Some seeds fall on a footpath, some on rocky ground, some among thorns and some on fertile soil.
The first thing we need to note in interpreting this parable is the caprice of the sower. A typical farmer would be cautious with the seeds he sows. Seeds are costly they’re the farmer’s investment for a fruitful harvest. He needs to get as much bang from his buck as possible. A farmer would avoid casting seeds on the footpath or rocky soil or among the thorn bushes. He would make sure that they fell on fertile ground. Jesus’ sower isn’t the typical farmer, however. He scatters the seeds everywhere. It’s almost as if he’s consecrating the entire earth with the seeds he casts. It makes no difference to him where they might fall.
The second thing we need to note is that most of the seeds that the sower casts take root. Those that fall on rocky soil only live a short while because they can’t take root fast enough, and so the sun scorches the seedlings. The seeds that fall among the thorn bushes can’t get a start because the thorns choke them. They don’t have much of a chance to take root. They try, but have only a short life. Others fall on a footpath, but have no chance to take root because the birds immediately swoop down and eat them up. But some seeds fall on fertile soil and “produce fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
Let’s get into Jesus’ mind as we continue interpreting this parable. I don’t think it’s all that useful to read the ending of this passage that gives an interpretation to each set of seeds. Biblical scholars tend to agree that this interpretation is a commentary added later to the Gospel. The interpretation isn’t bad, but it’s just one person’s interpretation. Each of us needs to read the parable, and allow it to speak directly to our hearts.
I suggest that as you read the parable you keep in mind Jesus’ image of a sower who sows with capricious abandon. The seeds go everywhere, like God’s word represented by the snow and rain in today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah. Keep in mind, also, that most of these seeds experience life, if only a short one. Even the seeds that are eaten by the birds have a purpose; they’re food for the birds.
Please don’t be frustrated because I didn’t tell you what the parable means. A parable is meant to be interpreted very personally. We have one interpretation at the end of the Gospel passage. That’s enough. And don’t be thrown off by it. It’s only one person’s interpretation. Rabbis used the medium of the parable to teach. They would simply present the parable leaving it for the disciple to interpret – to discover its deeper, very personal, meaning.
Instead of giving you my personal interpretation, I want to invite you to journey into the parable by yourself. In this Sunday’s liturgy we have two excellent passages that can be used to set us on a good track for a personal interpretation. Re-read that one, wonderful, sentence of Isaiah. Then reflect for a while on its message.
“Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Now, read the Responsorial Psalm. After you’ve given some time to reflect on both passages return to the parable. Then, give yourself time to listen – listen to God’s word for you. Here’s Responsorial Psalm.
“You have visited the land and watered it; greatly have you enriched. God’s watercourses are filled; you have prepared the grain. Thus have you prepared the land: drenching its furrows, breaking up it’s clods, softening it with showers, blessing it’s yield. You have crowned the year with your bounty, and your paths overflow with a rich harvest; the untilled meadows overflow with it, and rejoicing clothes the hills. The fields are garmented with flocks and the valleys blanketed with grain. They shout and sing for joy.”