Matthew 13:1-23
'Whoever Has Ears Ought To Hear'
by Rev. Robert Wagner

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
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 thirtyfold."

In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples the parable of the sower and the seed, which He concludes with the following: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Taken literally, the warning makes little sense. Can a man command his ears to hear, any more than he can command his nose to smell or his eyes to see? Hearing is what ears do, whether we want them to or not.

That being said, we recognize that there are different types of “hearing.” Even though our ears pick up everything they can, many sounds do not even register in our thoughts. Some are ignored because they hold no immediate importance to us, like the whir of an air conditioner. Others register in our minds, but are ignored because we disregard their urgency. We have all been guilty of such selective hearing, when someone speaks to us but we do not focus on what they are saying.

Jesus does not want us to fall into that trap when we hear His divine teaching. “Whoever has ears, ought to hear” applies to all Jesus says, and it is particularly fitting for the parable of the sower and the seed, whose subject is hearing and responding to the “word of the kingdom,” which is the Gospel message. We, like those disciples following Jesus in Galilee, certainly hear what He teaches about listening to the divine truth, but in order to bear a harvest of 30-, 60-, or 100-fold, it takes more than just hearing. It requires taking the words to heart and putting them into action.

How do we do this as Christ's disciples? First and foremost, truly hearing the message of Jesus takes faith. We as His disciples must believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. If we treat His as just one of many voices we follow to guide us, we will be distracted by the noise of the world and selectively hear the truths He reveals in His words and the teaching of His church. In such a situation, we will be tempted to ignore some of the harder truths He teaches, and less willing to live sacrificially when the world offers a teaching that is much easier to hear and follow. It is only when we recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and place our faith in the truth He offers for our salvation that we are able to hear with our ears, our minds and our hearts.

Secondly, we need to place ourselves into a position to hear the words Jesus speaks to us. It is much easier to listen when we are in a quiet room and totally focusing on the person speaking to us. Much more difficult would be a conversation in a loud restaurant, surrounded by televisions that distract us, while we simultaneously attempt to flag down a waiter. Likewise, listening to the word of Jesus — in prayer, at Mass, reading scripture, etc. — requires that we remove the distractions we can and focus our attention on what He is telling us. We do this by making an effort — depending on our situation, sometimes an extraordinary effort — to arrive at Mass early so we have time to settle into our pews and settle our hearts and minds with prayer before the opening hymn begins. We do this by finding a quiet place where we will not be easily distracted when we pray our rosary or read Scripture or examine our conscience. We do this by choosing a time of day when we are as alert as possible to pray or do our spiritual reading, knowing this will allow us to focus more easily on what Jesus wants to speak to us.

God has a message of peace, love and salvation for each and every one of us. It is a message that will set our hearts aflame and provide guidance and light for our path to eternal life. Let us make the effort to listen with ears, minds and hearts that are attentive to His voice. May God increase our faith so we may trust what He tells us so that we as His disciples may bear harvests of 30-, 60- and 100-fold.

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