15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 16, 2017
(Isaiah 55:10-11; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23)
For this Sunday and the next two, we will be spending time with Matthew’s Parable Chapter. All three weeks will be looking at various parables, some of which Matthew shared with Mark and Luke, others which belong only to Matthew. Before we go to Sunday’s we need to look briefly at Isaiah.
Isaiah compares the word of the Lord to the rain (or snow) which comes down from heaven to water the earth, producing seed for the sower and bread for the eater. Everything God does has purpose. What the rain and snow do for the earth, “my word” (which is also from heaven) achieves “the end for which I sent it.” That word “shall not return to me void.” That means if the word is a warning then change had better happen or there will be consequences. It also means that if the word is of hope for the future, we can be sure of the good to come.
These verses follow Isaiah 55:9: “As the heavens are high above the earth, so are my ways high above your ways and my plans above your plans.” Thus, God is trustworthy and, though we may not understand things at the time, God is always beyond our ability to know what might be in store.
Explaining that word, enfleshed in Jesus and preserved in his body, the Church, remains the task of the Church in every age. Matthew was one of four Gospels to present and sometimes explain the teachings of Jesus, which most often came in the form of parables (short stories with a point). Sometimes the meaning is obvious and plain for all to see; sometimes they have multiple meanings. Sometimes hearers are meant to think about things, rather than see the meaning immediately. Thus, Jesus will sometimes begin by saying: “What do you think?” and then tell a parable.
Generally, parables were taken from everyday life, drawn from a culture that was familiar with farming, but also knew domestic living in towns and villages. They knew of war and sometimes peace. Often enough the parables of the kingdom had some kind of end-time application, as in the Great judgment scene in Matthew 25.
Sunday’s parable, shared with Mark and Luke, is about a sower who went out to sow. After sowing on various types of soil, the parable ends: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” About the parable alone, we might well wonder who the sower is; or what he sows (Matthew never uses the word seed!), what the various soil types add to the parable; and what Jesus meant by the parable.
His disciples ask, “Why do you speak to (the crowds) in parables?” Jesus answers that disciples are given “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. But to those others, it is not given.” That the parable has to do with the kingdom helps our understanding. At this point it could spark lively discussions among families or friends about what the parable meant, without referring to what follows.
Matthew (not Mark or Luke) then quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, which may originally have been addressed to Israel’s leaders who refused to understand what Isaiah was saying and will ultimately see the end of the kingdom of Israel. Applied here, it refers to those who refuse to listen to Jesus. Mark and Luke only make passing reference to it. At the same time, you who do listen and see, actually see what ancient prophets could only long to see and hear but could not.
The explanation of the parable is probably the work of the early church. All three Gospels provide an explanation of the parable but they vary widely. Comparing the three would be an interesting exercise for all who take the time to look.
Fr. Lawrence L. Hummer firstname.lastname@example.org