July 12, 2023 at 9:59 a.m.
The parable of the seed and the sower
The seed is already planted in our hearts: the issue for each of us is rather, what happens next?
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
We have been following the Gospel of Saint Matthew for many weeks now. One of the interesting features of his Gospel is the frequency of hearing the parables of Jesus. Parables, as we know, are stories that take everyday events or things and use them as a medium to help us think about deeper, spiritual realities. The parable in our Gospel this Sunday must be one of the most well known of Jesus’ parables: the story of the sower and the seed. It is a great parable, but because it is so familiar it can just wash over us and we can miss the many levels of meaning it contains.
A great way to avoid this danger is to take each of the instances of where the seed falls and Jesus’ explanation of what this means. Then we can use our imagination and reflect on whether this describes us. However, before we do that, we should also take note of how our readings speak of the power and fruitfulness of God’s Word, for, as Jesus tells us, the seed mentioned in the parables is that Word. In fact, our First Reading gives a wonderful picture of that fruitfulness and goodness of God’s Word. In a land that was often parched, such as the Holy Land, the image in Isaiah of how water refreshes and makes fertile the land would be powerful indeed. This is how God’s Word works: bringing life and bearing fruit.
Having acknowledged the awesome power of God’s Word, we can return to our parable. The parable focuses on what we might call the medium or place in which the seed falls. Jesus provides four examples of where the seed may land. If it falls on stony ground, the seed cannot germinate, let alone take root. Instead, it just rots, or it is blown away or is eaten by the birds. Let us pray that we may not have stony or hardened hearts that cannot even receive God’s Word, so that it can then germinate and take root in us. Let us also pray for those who seem to be impervious to God’s Word for whatever reason, that their hearts may soften.
Many of us have such busy and even crazy lives, and so we can find ourselves rather like the seed that fell in the rocky, shallow ground. As Jesus says, the seed quickly germinates and springs up but then because it has little root, it quickly withers away, especially once some stress or distraction comes along. The spiritual message of Jesus in this case is clear. It can be very easy to “welcome the Word of God with joy” or with a sudden burst of religious enthusiasm. This might happen through an event that somehow moved us deeply, or even if we have had some sort of religious experience. Perhaps our experiences of the pandemic and the lockdown have also prompted us to review our faith and also our lives in general.
Such things are great, but then that initial reaction and experience needs to be deepened, that is to take root. This can happen through prayer, through reflecting on the Word and taking it into our hearts and our lives, and through the help that the sacraments can give to us. Otherwise, faith can be all too shallow and once some difficulty or even just a distraction comes along, suddenly all that fervor and enthusiasm, or those resolutions or promises that we made just wither away. In other words, like any relationship, our relationship with God, if it is to be worth the name “relationship,” needs to be deepened rather than be something shallow or superficial.
Jesus also mentions the danger of the seed falling among thorns or weeds that will choke the seed as it germinates. We all know, only too well, how the pressures of everyday life can crowd out our faith, or our relationship with God. It may begin with cutting back on prayer or spiritual reading because we are so busy or preoccupied. One recent survey noted that it can only take missing Mass for three or four consecutive weeks for a regular Mass-goer to no longer come to Mass regularly. Of course, those pressures should lead us to cling closer to Christ, not go away from him. After all, if one is cold, one does not move away from the fire, but closer to it!
Hopefully, as we continue our way through July, we may have some extra time for rest, for relaxation and for reflection. Our parable Sunday is therefore timely, as it invites us to pause, to reflect and to pray about our relationship with the Lord. The issue is not about whether we have received that “seed” of God’s love and Word, for this has already been sown in our hearts. In fact, just like the sower in the parable, God seems to scatter His love all over the place, even wastefully! No, that seed is already planted in our hearts: the issue for each of us is rather, what happens next?