When we hear the parable of the sower and seed, it can be easy to assume it is meant for someone else. After all, we are good soil, right?
This week we are challenged to look a bit more deeply at our own lives and assess just what kind of soil we really are. All too often, many things like sin, busyness, worry, work, and other activities keep us from receiving fully the teachings of Christ. Our initial excitement and enthusiasm for the Gospel can give way to a sort of dull acceptance. The good seed that was sown in our lives can begin to wither and die. The soil of our lives isn’t all that good.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. God, the Divine Sower, is always willing to sow new seeds in our lives. However, just as a lot of work goes into preparing—and tending—the soil of an actual garden, so too we have to make sure that the soil of our souls is prepared and cared for so that we can be in the right frame of mind and heart to receive the Word of God in new and deeper ways, now and for the rest of our lives.
My word will achieve the end for which it was sent (Isaiah 55:10-11).
The reasons the Church would pair text from Isaiah with the parable of the sower from Matthew 13 are obvious. The seed of the sower is the Word of Truth that Jesus himself brings in the Gospel. And, as Isaiah says in chapter 55, that word will not be sterile, but will be food and drink, bread, wine, water, and milk, for those who hunger and thirst. The Word that the Father sows in the earth (recall Jesus is laid in a tomb) will sprout, like the mustard seed or a grain of wheat that dies, and yield a tremendous harvest of souls. That seed of faith is watered by a constant rain of grace from above yielding bread for all. St. Peter Chrysologus extends this metaphor in his description of the Eucharist in one of his sermons: “[Christ] himself is the bread who, sown in the Virgin, raised up in the ﬂesh, kneaded in the Passion, baked in the oven of the tomb, reserved in churches, brought to altars, furnishes the faithful each day with food from heaven” (CCC 2837).
We, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves awaiting the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:18-23).
In this text from Romans, St. Paul points us toward the fullness of the Kingdom that will eventually be revealed in Christ. Though Jesus and his Gospel have been sown in the world already, the life of grace we now enjoy in the Church is expressive of the Kingdom in “seed and beginning,” as the Catechism puts it (CCC 541). While the gifts we share in the Church are wondrous, we still ﬁght against our own concupiscence, which makes us “captive to the law of sin” (Romans 7:23). One day we will be entirely free of that weakness, and the full work of Christ which has been germinating, and growing will be disclosed in full.
That “glorious freedom of the children of God” will mean a change, not only in the souls of men, but also in the rest of creation. Just as Adam’s sin brought sickness, death, and the natural forces that work against us into the world, so also, when we are freed from these forces, the natural world itself will be healed of the weaknesses that human sin introduced into it. St. Peter says that we “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:12-13; RSV: 2CE).
Some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit (Matthew 13:1-23 [1-9]).
This parable from Matthew’s Gospel and its explanation is often misunderstood. To some it sounds as though Jesus is saying that he speciﬁcally intends that some of his hearers will fail to understand him and so miss the salvation he brings! That, of course, is not what this Gospel means. (Recall that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” 1 Timothy 2:4; RSV: 2CE) The key to unlocking the meaning of Jesus's words is to recognize how parables function.
“Why do you speak to them in parables?” the disciples ask. Jesus responds, "Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.” While that last phrase, “to them it has not been granted,” might suggest that God has withheld something that makes understanding the parable possible, in fact—and this is made clear in the parable of the sower he tells —the reception of the meaning of the parable depends upon our free decision to be cultivated by God’s grace. The good soil (we could say the good soul) that receives the seed (which is the word of the parable itself) is willing to be tilled by God's grace. That is why Jesus says, “ To anyone who has [in other words, anyone who has freely received God’s grace] more will be given.” But Jesus also warns that “from anyone who has not [that is, has refused to receive God's grace] even what he has will be taken away.” We are given the choice: either to become "good soil" and receive the riches of grace, or to reject God's Word.
Listen to what the Opening the Word presenter on FORMED.org has to say about this parable.
According to the video, why must we be “ready soil” to receive the Word of God?
Why do you think that Jesus told this parable to the crowd? Why did he tell it to his disciples?
DIGGING DEEPER: Crops of Israel
What would the sower in the parable have been planting? Grains, such as wheat and barley, lentils, chickpeas, onions, cucumbers, melons, ﬂax, and spices were grown in Israel in Jesus's time, along with dates, pomegranates, almonds, and grapes.
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