Fifteenth Sunday in
A Homily - Cycle A - 2010-2011
by Fr. Luke Dundon
First Reading - Isaiah 55:10-11
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 65: 10, 11, 12-13, 14
Second Reading - Romans 8:18-23
Gospel - Matthew 13:1-23
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
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; for 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 thirty-fold."
When my sister and I were young, we received two small pine trees as gifts. We planted the trees in our backyard. I pulled up the surrounding grass, watered it daily, and cared for it diligently. My sister left her tree alone. Three weeks passed. I measured my tree, and happily I found it had grown two inches! My sister's grew four. . . so I put in some fertilizer, watered it even more, and even put a little fence around it. Now it would really grow. My sister still did nothing with hers. . . So I checked again three months later. My tree had grown a whole foot! I was so proud. Until I checked by sister's tree. . . it grew two feet. . .
Some things grow with a life of their own, especially when put in the right soil. The trees happened to be put into ground that already had enough water and sunlight, so my contributions actually choked my tree a bit.
In the Gospel we hear of seeds that fall upon various types of soil. Seeds fall upon different types of ground, and that makes all the difference. Seeds don't just grow on their own, the seed needs soil which is prepared; similarly, the Word of God will only grow in the heart that is ready.
And so we listen. The Lord preaches His own Homily about the seed, the Word of God which falls amidst traps and pitfalls. . .
First, we see the path where people walk, where the ground is not prepared at all, so birds can fed most easily. The ground is not tilled and softened, and so it won't accept anything else; similarly, the heart that is unprepared won't be capable of understanding, more importantly accepting what is given. And so, the Word gets snatched away by the devil, through scientific doubt, worldly skepticism, or a secular lack of interest. How to salvage the seed? Faith opens the eyes, the heart and the hands and accept what has been given, and even while not understanding it all at once, strive to understand it ever more, beginning with an affirmative Yes, I believe, in You.
And then the rocky ground, where there is little space to establish roots. There may initially be acceptance, but once tribulations or sufferings come - - - perhaps through family tensions, work pressures, or school worries - - - fears increase, acceptance declines, and trust may wear away completely. How to clear the rocks? Hope. . . hope that conquers despair in the face of struggle, hope that remains when all other reasons for optimism are gone. And so the Word can continue to grow, even in the dark shadow of the Cross.
And then the thorns. . . the seed nestles in, indeed sprouts in the ground, but another plant is in the way. Roots develop, but they compete against bigger roots that are very hard to pull out. The Word of God has been accepted, but it is in competition with a greater attraction, some worldly allurement or attachment - - - perhaps ambition, entertainment, or even work - - - and it prevents the seedling Word from growing. This Word is such a precious supernatural plant, and so it needs its own special prepared soil to grow. How to remove the thorns? Love. . . have a heart that beats first and foremost for love of Him, and then the thorns will wither in their place.
Now. . . this all sounds real nice, perhaps even beautiful, but even the preacher has to respond to his own homily - - wait a minute here! I've tried to remove my own doubt, I've tried to get rid of my own worries, and I've tried to let go of those attachments which occasionally take a hold of me - - - it's hard to change! I really can't do it! And when I do try, I mess up! (My little pine tree is not-so-living proof of that!) I hear about how wonderful the Word of God is (even Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter about it, called Verbum Domini). He writes that God's word is not just written and mute," but "incarnate and living." I've heard about how it can transform my life, but I really don't seem to have the strength to prepare my own ground! Maybe the saints could do it, but me?
Well, Gospel means "Good News," and there is Good News here. . . we may not be able to prepare our ground, our hearts, on our own, but with God's help all things are possible. He is the one sowing the seed, the seed which is His very Word, and so the Divine Farmer knows how our soil should be cultivated with Faith, Hope and Love in order to receive this Word effectively. We can prepare as best as we can, but in the end it's not about reaching, it's about receiving, which is hard to appreciate in today's culture. My sister's tree received everything it needed, God provided it more than I every could. Even when we do mess up, that seed is durable, and tough like most seed, will wait till the soil of our soul is ready to provide for its growth and life in ourselves. His word is alive and active, and it's ready to take root in our lives, our very beings, today! The Church around the world is highlighting the importance of Scripture, the Word of God, more than ever before, and so we pray for greater faith, trust and love for that Word to grow in our hearts.
Our Lord speaks His word to us today, and so we open our hearts to receive the seed. It will take root if we're ready, and it will change us. We will then change, and it will be a beautiful change to see. One could say that the ground is designed to receive the seed - - - we are designed to receive His word. We are given life through the seed of His word. As we receive now this word in the Eucharist today, may we be open to the Divine Farmer, who has prepared the soil and is ready to sow in each heart gathered here.