|by Angela Lambert|
July 16th, 2017; 15th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23
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; from 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 thirtyfold.”
St. Paul tells us that “Jesus is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). So why does the Word of Christ set some people’s hearts on fire while others pass it by with apathy or disdain? Does Jesus play favorites with who He invites to understand His message and who He lets go? How does He choose to whom “knowledge of the mysteries of heaven is granted”?
Jesus’ answers in a surprising way – He is the sower who offers Himself to everyone; whether it takes root depends on us. We are responsible for the extent to which we receive His Word.
It reminds me of my kids’ proverbial complaint that I’m not fair. Each one is certain that they have more chores than the others, and that they receive less than the others. I remind them that it only appears that way because they see their work but don’t see the work their siblings do. Either, because sometimes it occurs when they are not around, or because they just refuse to acknowledge it. Similarly, the appearance of others receiving more stems from ingratitude and envy rather than a material difference. It’s easy to fall into the same trap spiritually as God’s children. God treats us all fairly, it’s our perception that tends to need adjustment.
Jesus’ parable illustrates the affect that attitude has on our faith. For God’s Word to be sown in our hearts and transformative, we must be receptive. Receptivity requires an attitude of gratitude, humility, and love. Resistance undermines the work God can do within us, and the fruit it can bear in our lives.
The seed that falls on the path has no effect because it’s met with apathy or hostility. Consider the things that deaden our hearts or fuel them with anger towards God. Certainly secular culture, infused with hedonistic consumerism, dulls our desire for God by distracting us with instant gratifications and claiming that God is irrelevant to society. When things go wrong or we suffer however, our faith in God’s existence suddenly appears but only to blame Him. Anger and apathy make relationship impossible with anyone. Relationships require investment, interest, and openness. Much like the futility of reasoning with someone who’s already discounted you, if we don’t care about God except to shake our fist at Him, nothing He says or does will be convincing.
The rocky soil illustrates faith rooted only in sentimentality and emotions. It resembles the infatuation stage of a relationship. During that time, the couple is enamored with one another and experience strong feelings that say their love will last forever. Those feelings however, do not, as C.S. Lewis puts it, deliver on their promises. Feelings, by nature, come and go. Lasting love is a decision not an emotion. The infatuation stage in our relationship with God may include powerful feelings of love for the Lord and the desire for holiness. When a person encounters suffering or confusion, that love will either wither from shallowness, or go deeper to root down further in the soil. Fair weather friends make for rocky relationships, and the same goes for our relationship with God.
For those who make it past luke-warmness, and deeper than mere emotions, thorns still threaten to choke out faith with worldly anxiety and desires. To live in the world but not of the world, is no easy task. Worry about our comfort, security, and what others think about us can quickly turn our gaze from God back to earth, crowding out room for His grace. We sit down to pray but our phone buzzes with a notification. Worry or desire pulls us away from Scripture and back into our technology. Social events fill up the calendar and we think we are too busy to go to Church. We might tell ourselves that we just have to prioritize these worldly things for a time, and then we will be able to relax and give God our whole selves. It tends to only be a trick we play on ourselves, like the carrot at the end of the stick – the donkey keeps walking but the carrot keeps moving at the same time he does.
A person who has found Christ, realizes that in Him they have everything. A humble heart, open to the Lord, fills with gratitude as it receives grace upon grace. Apathy turns to zeal, sentimentality to conviction, and the constant grasping after the next thing is replaced with spiritual fulfillment and peace. In this rich soil, the soul begins to bear fruits of faith, hope, and love, along with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).
When we find ourselves saying, “Why doesn’t God speak to me? I pray but don’t hear anything?,” or “I just don’t feel like praying or going to Church, I don’t get anything out of it,” or “My life always feels so out of control no matter what I do, why can’t I ever just find peace?”; we can take a step back and evaluate the soil in our souls. The Word of God has come to us in the flesh and remains with us, what can we do to better receive Him? Begin with asking for His help.
- When do you struggle with feelings of not caring about God or your faith? What or who fuels that hardening of heart, and what/who softens your heart toward God?
- Despite my love for flowers and home-grown vegetables, I’m a terrible gardener because I’m not attentive enough about keeping things watered or clearing away weeds. How can you be more attentive to the garden of your soul? What does it need to be watered, and what weeds need clearing away?
- Pray about how deeply your faith is rooted. Is it guided primarily by emotions or by principle? Consider how your relationship with God is similar to, or different than, your relationships with others.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the thorns in your spiritual life. Prayerfully consider what competes with your prayer time, Mass, your generosity with the Lord, or your openness to His teachings. Ask for Christ to remove the thorns and replace them with greater love.
- Mary exemplifies perfect receptivity to the Lord, rooted in deep love and enduring the hardest tribulations. Ask for her intercession to soften your heart and to “open your eyes to see and your ears to hear” as she did.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
Work on preparing the soil for Christ:
- If you need more gratitude: each night list 10 things you are thankful for from the day.
- If you need more humility and detachment: Pray the Humility Prayer each day.
- If you need more openness: Read Scripture for 5 minutes each day. It could be the daily readings (which can be found at http://usccb.org), a devotional, or simply opening up one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).
- Encountering Christ through your life
- Becoming Rich: Investment Strategies From Christ
- Being a Worrier or a Wildflower
- Determined Discipleship
~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017
|* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.|