Matthew 13:1-9, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
For people who live in a city, the parable of the sower and the seeds are difficult to understand. And for people who live in the province it is also not easy to understand. Wasn’t the farmer careless throwing the seed on a path, among the thorns and so on. If the farmer is God – would he not be more careful?
When Jesus told parables, he connected them with the realities around him. Surely when he told the parable standing in a boat, he pointed to field on the shore and said: Look there the farmer is sowing his seed.
And Palestine farmer did not prepare the field first before sowing. They sowed the seed that fell anywhere, on the paths that people had used during the time when nothing grew there, among the thorns that had grown. Only after sowing, the farmer took his plough and loosened the soil and so brought the seed in the soil.
Let’s go to the shore of the Sea of Galilee and see what’s happening there.
Immense crowds press upon Jesus as he teaches. The crowd was so big, Jesus actually got into a fishing boat and used the lake as his speaking platform, so that he could address everyone gathered on the shore. Crowds like this hung on his every word wherever he went. He could easily have turned them into a revolutionary army and manipulated them for any number of purposes. But instead, he simply invites them to change their hearts. Jesus truly is the Lord, but he refuses to bully us into following him. He is the “sower” of the parable, spreading God’s Word and announcing God’s invitation, but never forcing hearts to welcome it.
This combination of eagerness to win over disciples, but respect for his listeners’ freedom is especially evident in Jesus’ use of parables. A parable is a simple comparison between a hard-to-understand divine truth, a truth about God and his plan of salvation, and a well-known earthly reality. Some interpreters say wrongly that Jesus used these stories and comparisons to conceal his meaning from his opponents. But there is another way to look at it.
Sometimes people don’t want to accept the plain truth, because it means they have to change. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the plain truth. But many didn’t accept it. So now he takes a more roundabout way to convince them. The parables offer his listeners a chance to accept certain truths in the abstract, before seeing how they apply to them personally. It’s a way of sneaking uncomfortable truths through his listener’s mental defense mechanisms, penetrating indirectly the minds that have closed themselves to his direct proclamations. Jesus always respects our freedom, but he never gives up on convincing us to use that freedom well.
One important truth this parable teaches is that our freedom doesn’t operate in a vacuum. We truly are free to choose to follow Christ or not follow Christ, but outside factors influence that freedom, trying to get us to choose a self-centered life over a Christ-centered life.
The first influence is the devil, represented by the birds that eat the seed of the path. The devil is real. He and his army of fallen angels hate God and God’s followers. The devil influenced Adam and Eve, successfully tempting them to disobey God’s commandments, thereby breaking off their friendship with God. The devil wants to do the same thing to us. So he is always planting half-truths in our minds, like saying: God won’t mind if you have a little fun; God won’t be able to forgive that sin; you don’t really need the sacraments, you can just go to God directly, all by yourself… and so on. He uses subtle deceptions to uproot our friendship with God.
The second influence is our own tendency to laziness and comfort, what St Paul calls “the flesh.” This is represented by the rocky soil. Many times, God’s will demands self-sacrifice – we have to carry crosses, just as Jesus did, if we want to be faithful to our life’s purpose. Our ingrained love for comfort resists self-sacrifice.
The third influence is the culture around us. This is represented by the thorns. The world promises perfect happiness in money, achievements, popularity, or passing pleasures. That’s a false promise, because God alone satisfies the human heart.
When we follow God’s will and stay true to our friendship with Christ even in the face of these contrary influences, then our lives bear the abundant fruit of wisdom, compassion, and lasting happiness. Without the help of God’s grace, our freedom cannot long resist the influence of the devil, the world, and the flesh. And yet, God’s grace doesn’t make us into saints unless we cooperate with it.
There are two ways we can cooperate with God’s grace.
First, we can use well of the gifts God has given us as channels of grace: the sacraments, the Bible, the teachings of the Church, the example and intercession of the saints, and, most importantly of all, the gift of prayer. If we aren’t using these gifts eagerly and intelligently, and constantly learning how to use them better, we are like soldiers letting their weapons get rusty.
Second, we can exercise our freedom, just as we exercise our muscles. This means making conscious choices, motivated by worthy reasons. The husband and father who goes to work every day for years just out of routine, and doesn’t consciously renew each day his commitment to his family and to the common good, the reasons behind his going to work, will eventually face an existential crisis.
The Christian who comes to Mass every Sunday for years just out of routine, comes regularly late, and so doesn’t consciously renew his personal commitment to Jesus Christ each Sunday, which is the reason behind coming to Mass, will eventually drift away from God.
We must know the reasons behind our choices, and we must consciously renew our commitment to those reasons. That’s how we exercise our freedom and defend ourselves against the hidden cancer of routine – the secret ally of the devil, the world, and the flesh.
Today, as Christ renews his commitment to us in this Mass, let’s renew our personal love for him in the depths of our hearts, choosing freely, once again, to be his faithful followers.
Nothing will please him more.