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SUNDAY REFLECTION : Bear fruit, hearing the Word of God. Fr. Abraham Mutholath (September 2, 2018)

SECOND SUNDAY OF ELIJAH – CROSS - MOSES

Bear fruit, hearing the Word of God. Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

 

The Bible Text

 

The Parable of the Sower.

(1) On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. (2) Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. (3) And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. (4) And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. (5) Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, (6) and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. (7) Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. (8) But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. (9) Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

 

The Explanation of the Parable of the Sower.

(18) “Hear then the parable of the sower. (19) 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. (20) The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. (21) 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. (22) 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. (23) 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.”

 

Interpretation

 

 (1) On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. (2) Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore.

 

Jesus was teaching in a house, probably Peter’s house in Capernaum, that was crowded with people. When his mother and brothers came to see him, they could not reach him because of the crowd. (Matthew 12: 46-50). By the time Jesus spoke to his family, more people might have arrived. Since the crowd kept coming in, he found a better way to communicate by sitting down by the sea of Galilee on a boat while the crowd could sit on the mountain side of the shore. While on the boat, the crowd would not press on to Jesus and crowd could be managed well with enough visibility and breathing space. That was also a natural sound-amplifying system of the time to address large assembly. People could hear Jesus better as he was facing from the sea to the valley where people stood. Though there was a large crowd, Jesus taught sitting because the Rabbi sitting and the listeners standing or sitting was the custom of the Jews during those days.

 

(3) And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow.”

 

He spoke to them at length in parables

Jesus used parables extensively to teach the spiritual truth that he wanted to communicate to ordinary people. Synoptic gospels give 35 parables. The literal meaning of parable is “cast alongside.” It can be a comparison or similitude of a spiritual fact to figures taken from everyday life. Parables are also considered as an expanded proverb because proverbs are condensed similitudes serving similar purpose. Jesus used parables to illustrate a spiritual truth by casting it alongside an earthly  story that could be remembered and handed over to different cultures and generations. Parables were good teaching aids because they are still relevant now.

 

In the early part of his ministry, Jesus taught without parables. Later, when the Pharisees confronted Jesus, he began to teach in parables. The higher-class Jews who were against Jesus were close minded. So, Jesus wanted to conceal the truth from them; while he continued communicating truth to his disciples. He even explained the meaning of some of the parables to his disciples. There was a time when he did not say anything without using parables. (Mark 4:34). That was why the disciples asked Jesus why he was speaking to the people in parables. (Matthew 13:10).

 

A sower went out to sow.

The sower is Jesus and later his representatives who preach the word of God. The sower went out from his residence to the field to sow. Jesus came out from his home in heaven to the world which is the field that has different types of soil or people. The seed is the word of God and the soil represent the hearts of the people. The hearts can be of different nature like the soil than can be a path way, rocky ground, soil with thorns, or fertile soil of different qualities . The sower will sow the seeds in every soil. The result would be based on the receptivity of the soil or the hearts of the listeners because the sower and the seeds are the same. All the hearers would not receive the word of God in the same sense.

 

(4) And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.

(18) “Hear then the parable of the sower. (19) 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.

 

Jesus used the example of a farmer and his experience in farming to illustrate the future growth of the church he was going to establish. The seed came from a former plant of the same species. The word of God that Jesus cultivated was based on the original teachings of Moses to the Israelites. During the course of centuries the later teachers had manipulated them and thus made them less fruitful. So Jesus cleaned up the seeds and replanted them in the world with all sorts of people.

 

The farming that Jesus presented is to be understood from the background of the sowing during Jesus’ ministry. Farmers sow the seeds abundantly without separating the path, rocky area, or the thorny ground. They all represent different kinds of people or their receptivity to the word of God.

 

Some seed fell on the path

While sowing with hand or using carts with holes for seeds to fall scattered on the ground, some seeds naturally fall on the path where the seeds lay exposed without germination. The path where the seeds fell is compared to those who are not open to the word of God or do not try to understand it. They were like the Pharisees and other elite leaders who listened to the word of God direct from Jesus. However, Jesus told about them: “Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see.” (Isaiah 6:9, Matthew 13:14). God punished Israelites and made them wander in the desert for 40 years before their entry into the promised land because they hardened their hearts to the voice of God. (Psalm 95:7-11). Those who live in sin or whose minds are far away from God will not be receptive to the word of God, even though they might be listening to the word of God or attending church services. Their hearts are hardened by the footsteps of other interests in life.

 

The farmers had the experience of pigeons and other birds eating the seeds lying exposed on the path. The people walking across the field also crush the seed underfoot. The listeners who were indifferent to Jesus’ preaching and those who do not assimilate the word of God, could be easily manipulated by the enemies of Jesus. That was why, at the trial of Jesus, people cried out to Pilate, “Crucify him!, Crucify him!.” (Luke 23:20-23).

 

The birds that came and ate the seeds stand for the evil one that steals the seed. In Mark, Jesus’s interpretation is: “As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them.” (Mark 4:15). The same thing happened in the case of Eve. Though she had heard from Adam, God’s commandment not to eat from the two trees in the middle of the Paradise, Satan stole that word of God from her through his misguidance. In our lives, the evil one could deviate us from the church or religious life by working through our friends or people who propagate false views in social gatherings and social media.

 

(5) Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, (6) and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.

(20) The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. (21) 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 rock with a thin layer of soil would contribute the sudden germination and growth of the seed. However, it cannot grow further because of the rock underneath and the hot sun above. If the plants had more grip in the soil, they could withstand the heat of the sun with the moisture from the soil. There are people who are enthusiastic to listen to the word of God. They get receptive at first and positively respond to it. However, when challenges in faith happen, they will return to their previous stage.

 

Many people who had witnessed the miracles performed by Jesus and many who were attracted by his teaching, had followed him. However, when they heard him preaching about giving his flesh to eat and blood to drink, they murmured among themselves. “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” (John 6:66). During the triumphant entry of Jesus in the Temple on the feast of his last Passover, most of the crowd wholeheartedly welcome him singing “Hosanna in the Highest!” and acknowledging him as the “Son of David.” However, almost the same crowd, under the influence of the Jewish rivals of Jesus had denied him in front of Pilate and preferred Barabbas in the place of Jesus and pleaded Pilate to crucify Jesus.

 

During the period when the gospels were finalized, Christians were under severe persecution by Jews and Romans. Many Christians were persecuted and martyred because of their faith. Some gave up their faith. This parable was a warning for those who were wavering in their faith and hope of future glory for the persisting Christians. In the modern world, some people lose faith when they face crisis in life like sudden death in the family, financial crisis, or terminal illness. Some others leave the church because of clergy scandals in the church. Our faith should not collapse in the failure of any apostle like Judas Iscariot. Instead, we should learn from their failures and sanctify ourselves and the church.

 

(7) Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.

(22) 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.

 

Here is another scenario of how some seeds that germinated were wasted. Though the land was prepared, there were seeds or roots of weeds invisible and under the ground. They grew up along with the good seed and chocked them. God is intolerant of facilitating the bad to get along with the good. Before the entry of Israelites to Canaan, God had advised them through Moses that they should completely destroy the inhabitants of Canaan. They should not make any treaty with them or show any mercy to them. Israelites were not allowed to intermarry with the Canaanites “because they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and He will swiftly destroy you.” (Deut. 7:4).

 

Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24). The Bible has several examples of leaders who failed because of interest in worldly things more than God.

 

Solomon was a blessed king and the most wise man in the world. However, he violated God’s commandments and married many foreign women. “He had as wives seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines, and they turned his heart. When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to follow other gods, and his heart was not entirely with the LORD, his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” (1Kings 11:3-4). Thus, the idol worship introduced by his wives chocked the devotion of Solomon to the only one and true God.

 

Judas Iscariot wholeheartedly followed Jesus. Jesus selected him as one of the 12 apostles. However, along with his apostolic calling, Judas cultivated his desire for money.  St. John the Evangelist reports about Judas: “he was a thief. As keeper of the money bag, he used to take from what was put into it.” (John 12:6). The devil entered the heart of Judas to prompt him to betray his master for money. (John 13:2). It resulted in betrayal of Jesus and unwillingness to repent resulting in depression and suicide of Judas. Thus the greed for money chocked the holy apostolic calling of Judas Iscariot.

 

Ananias and Sapphira are other examples of entertaining greed for money along with their faith that ended in failure. They sold their property and while presenting the proceeds to the apostles, they kept some for themselves in secret. Then Peter said, “’Ananias, how is it that Satan has filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and withhold some of the proceeds from the land?’ … On hearing these words, Ananias fell down and died.” (Acts 5:3-5).

 

Worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit

The anxiety and greed for worldly riches, fame, or position can perform like weed in the spiritual life of a person. They can choke the spirituality and make a person more world-centered than God-centered. According to Jesus, when we are weary and burdened, we need to turn to Jesus who will give us rest. (Matthew 11:28-30). He said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27). Psalm 55:22 says: “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” St. Peter wrote: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:6-8). The book of Hebrews advises us: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’  So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

 

(8) But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

(23) 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.”

 

The produce from the good soil was outstanding and compensated all seeds wasted in non-fertile lands. The fertility of the soil was different and so the quantity of the produce varied. The hundred or sixty or thirty grains on one wheat plant is awesome result. The hundredfold was an extraordinary and optimum result that could be possible only with the intervention of God. For example, after a famine in Canaan, Isaac the son of Abraham had such a result in the land of Gerar, a Philistine town.  Isaac sowed a crop in that region and reaped a hundredfold the same year. Since the LORD blessed him. (Genesis 26:12).

 

The outstanding produce of the good soil was because it was not a footpath of hard soil, not a stony area, and did not allow thorny bushes to grow. Soil stands for the heart of the Christian. We have to be spiritually free from hurdles of bad addiction and overcome the hurdles of worldly anxieties and greed. We also should be receptive to the word of God and nurture it in our heart and produce its fruit through our actions of charity.

 

The old custom of cultivation in Palestine was plowing the soil after sowing the seed. There was much waste of seed involved. However, the result from the good soil was extraordinary harvest. So also, the word of God is preached in abundance. Some people might not pay attention to it, or some may receive it but ignore it later, or others might give up the faith when facing crisis in faith or life. However, the good hearted people will produce outstanding results depending upon their receptivity and positive approach to the word of God.

 

(9) “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

 

This has been a phrase Jesus used at the close of some of his serious teachings. It means that God has formed us with ears to hear and ability to understand the commandments of the Lord by the working of the Holy Spirit. We have to respond to that by obeying them. This hearing is not just an external but listening with a good heart to produce its fruit. Jesus used this phrase when the teaching was important, not easy to comprehend, and to stir up the immediate attention of the listeners for action.

 

Message

 

1. Jesus went out from the house to a public place to preach and the people gathered around Jesus to listen to him attentively are lessons for the preachers and the faithful. Besides our family prayers, Jesus expects us to go to our churches or retreat centers to listen to the word of God.

 

2. The results of cultivation varied based on the condition of the soil where the seeds fell. The sower and the seed were the same for all areas. We have to evaluate what kind of soil is our heart.

 

3. The footpath were the seeds were stolen by the evil represent our heart hardened by interests that are contrary to the ways of God. Is our heart unaffected when we hear the word of God? Does the word of God motivate us to act?

 

4. Are the Christian values implanted in us by the church are now being stolen by the false ideologies or false propaganda of the social media or antichurch people? They are like the birds that took away the seeds that fell on the path.

 

5. Do we have only a temporary impact from retreats and inspirational preaching that we attend? Our faith should be founded on Jesus, the rock. Any tribulation or persecution should not make us collapse our trust in God. Abraham, Job, Jesus, and the martyrs of the church should inspire us in keeping up our faith firm.

 

5. Solomon married foreign wives against the commandment of God. His wives led him to idol worship that chocked his fidelity to Yahweh. Judas and Ananias cultivated greed for money that chocked their fidelity to Jesus. Is there anything that is chocking the word of God in us?

 

6. The optimum produce of the good soil was because it was not a footpath, not a stony area, and did not allow thorny bushes to grow. Are we free from hurdles of bad addiction, worldly anxieties, and greed? Let us be receptive to the word of God, nurture it in our heart, and produce its fruit through our actions of charity.

 

7. We should not be disappointed when we hear the downfall of the church in any part of the world or when failures happen to some ministers of the word of God. Church has been challenged throughout the past 20 centuries. However, let us be reminded that Jesus is its head and he is in control. Ups and downs should help us to learn and act for the betterment of the church.

 

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