Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A
July 16, 2017
The Gospel passage of today’s Liturgy opens with Chapter 13 of the Gospel according to Matthew. A chapter that contains seven parables of Jesus that have as a theme the kingdom of heaven: the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed, it is like a mustard seed, it is like leaven, then it’s compared to a treasure hidden in a field or to a net cast into the sea, and so on. Today we read the first of these parables, which is that of the sower who cast seed, and the various grounds that receive it. It is the main parable that makes reference to the others.
The passage is divided into three distinct parts. The first part, where Jesus expounds the parable (Mt 13:4-9), then the second, where Jesus responds to the disciples’ question about why He speak in parables, and the third, where Jesus explains the parable that He has just told.
Before coming to understand the passage, we must note that just in the preceding chapters, Matthew recounts the much resistance Jesus encountered when preaching. Jesus announced His Word of life. By recalling the parable we can say that Jesus cast His seed on the earth; He did so with abundance, not excluding any ground. Then He established that the grounds, that is, the listeners, are different: some are welcoming, some less, and the difference is the capacity to bear fruit; He also observed that the good soil, those who hear and bear much fruit, are the little ones and the humble, and for these He praised the Father (Mt 11:25).
Today, Jesus pauses, reflects on this mystery, and then transforms it into a parable.
We begin with the central part of the account: faced with the astonished reaction of the disciples, who ask themselves how Jesus speaks in parables to the crowd, the Lord gives a mysterious answer. He seems to say that He does it so that people do not understand, and that the parables are intentionally made to prevent the people access to the kingdom: “This is why I speak to them in parables: so that even though seeing they do not see, and though hearing they do not hear and understand.” (Mt. 13:13). Obviously, this is not so: the seed is for all. But the Lord chooses to use parables to those who listen to acknowledge their hardness of heart, their inability to listen, to welcome and understand.
The parables are not to be obscure, indeed! Precisely because they are “clear”, because they are not ambiguous, they have the capacity to throw light on the resistance that lives in the heart of man, that resistance by which this generation is likened to those children who, faced with a lament, do not weep, and do not dance when they hear a joyous song (Mt 11:16-19). Acknowledging their hardness is the first step, painful and necessary, so that the seed can really be received, and bring forth fruit.
The different grounds, then, on which the seed falls, represent different modes of receiving the Word, or different modes of listening: the Word of God is sown in every human being, and in each one It wants to bring forth a fruit full of life. But the different grounds show that the interiorization of the Word needs appropriate, suitable spaces and times: it is not something that happens everywhere, in a moment.
It does not happen on the surface of life, where one is insensitive and distracted by a thousand other voices. And it does not happen in a moment: the stony ground speaks of a journey that happens in a hurry (the adverb “at once” happens twice) and for this reason it cannot endure, it does not withstand long distances. Speaking of this inconstancy, the evangelist Matthew uses a particular adjective, which literally means “what is only of a moment” (proskairós): the man “of a moment” is one who is enthusiastic about everything, but does not love anything deeply; he lives very fragmented, and does not unify himself around a relationship; he knows no patience.
The seed, therefore, must go deep descending into the heart of life, and from there, from within, it is transformed. And when the seed sprouts, it needs to be attended to that there isn’t anything that suffocates it: the preoccupations, the troubles of life are a theme dear to Matthew. He speaks of them at length in the Sermon on the Mount, in chapter six, saying that every worry is of itself an idolatry, a lack of faith in the Father Who clothes the lilies of the fields and feeds the birds of the air (6:25-34 “Do not worry about your life and what you are to eat… look at the lilies of the field… etc.). Faith therefore is the good ground, which received the seed and makes it grow.
When this happens, then something happens of which we are no longer masters: the seed bears fruit in an unexpected and surprising way (it produces “one-hundred, sixty, thirtyfold”, 23), and generate a new life.
Finally, a word about the sower! He appears to have an extravagant behavior, and permits himself to “waste” seed where he already that, foreseeably, it will not bear fruit. He is not calculating where and how much he will do, he does not decide in advance where yes and where no, he does not fear failure.
And he does not pretend that it may bear fruit everywhere, and bear it everywhere in the same way. Precisely for this reason His Word is effective, because it is free, and it allows freedom: as it is given for love, so it wants to be received with love; and this unwarranted and free love is its fruit.