To read the texts click on the texts:Isa55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23
The Gospel readings for this Sunday and the next two Sundays are from what is known as the Parable Discourse in the Gospel of Matthew. It is thus necessary to understand the meaning of the word ‘parable’ in order to appreciate the text. The word ‘parable’ (in Hebrew mashal; in Greek parabole) signifies in general a comparison, or a parallel, a casting side by side, by which one thing is used to illustrate another. It is a likeness taken from the sphere of real, or sensible, or earthly incidents, in order to convey an ideal, or spiritual, or heavenly meaning. This meaning is not given by the one telling the parable but by the listener.
A visit to an artist friend of mine brought out powerfully the meaning of a parable. As I viewed all his paintings, I was struck by one and was anxious to know what it meant. I asked him for the meaning, but he was elusive. I began to judge him as selfish and proud and, in my irritation; I kept insisting that he tell me the meaning, alleging that perhaps even he did not know it. “Tell me what it means”. I demanded. He looked at me as only a friend will look and said, “If I tell you, that is all you will ever see there”. Jesus too, by using parables, allowed the listener to supply the lesson.
Aware of the image from Isaiah of the word of God as rain and snow that nurture a fruitful seed and do not return until their purpose is accomplished, Matthew wrestles with the ‘failure’ of the words of Jesus to produce the desired effect in the disciples. The fates of the seeds (three fourths of which are apparently lost) are an index of ways in which followers of Jesus seem to fail and thus be tempted to give up and give in. But there is also the assurance from Isaiah that the soil will produce astonishing results.
In the initial parable we are in touch not only with a Jesus who offers images of hope, but one who expresses his own hope as opposition mounts. As for Jesus and Paul (as he says in his letter to the Romans), creation becomes a text that leads us deeper into the mysteries of God, Even human failures will not overwhelm the power of God’s word to take root in rich soil. Like all parables, this too poses a question: As we look around our world, where can we find images and messages of hope amid repeated losses and ever-recurring human failure?
We should remember that, these days, this parable is about us. That is, we are the sowers, we are the ones called to “go out to sow,” to try to live as our faith calls us to live, to try to share our faith in word and deed with those whom God puts in our path; the share the love of God so abundantly given to us and to do so optimistically and with the sure hope that growth will take place even if at first glance it seems to us that much is being lost.
This sharing has to involve action. It has to involve reaching out to people, serving and caring, and risking. However, soon we are going to wonder whether it’s worth it; we are going to wonder whether anything of value or meaning is going to come from all of our efforts. We will wonder, because we will notice that a whole lot of what we do is wasted. Nothing much seems to come of it. This is why this prediction must have really shocked the people who heard this parable and shocks us even today. This is about the yield, the harvest. Seven or eight fold was hoped for. Ten fold was phenomenal, and anything above that was simply unheard of. To promise this sort of result (thirty, sixty and a hundred fold) was more than optimistic; it was to live in a whole different order of creation; it was to operate out of a whole different vision.
To sow with this sort of hope and vision is to have the perspective of the Kingdom of God. With this vision we will not mind the birds or the rocks or the thorns or whatever else may get in the way. All of that just does not matter. It is swallowed up in the promise of the whole enterprise.
This perspective – the promise of a vast harvest – is at the heart of this parable. This message of hope and confidence is the gift of the parable. We are to love and to serve in broadcast fashion, knowing full well that most of what we do will not seem to amount to anything, that failure and loss might stare us in the face, but trusting, nonetheless, in the incomprehensible abundance of the harvest. Certainly, much will be wasted, at least as we see it. Maybe even our very favorite seed, our best, most self-sacrificing good deed our smartest remark, our greatest insight, will end up on the path, or even fall among thorns, But that is not ours to control; it is not ours to worry about.
We do not focus on the result of our action. We focus solely on the action that we must perform and leave the worrying and the harvest to the Lord of the harvest. We plunge into the din of battle but leave our hearts at the feet of the Lord. What God will make of our efforts is more than we can imagine.