Today we are given a rather agricultural parable for our consideration and we might think that Jesus would have been sure that the people would easily understand his meaning since their whole lives were spent so close to the land.
'Well certainly not according to the text. And it seems that the Apostles were just as baffled as the people, even so far as finding it necessary to ask Jesus why he was using parables that apparently no one could understand.
Jesus then launches into a quotation from Isaiah stating that people will listen but not understand. He then initiates them into the inner meaning of the parable and how it is essentially all about our receptiveness or lack of it to the Word of God.
Of course, once you understand Jesus’ method of speaking in parables it doesn’t take very much to understand the content of his message. Once you adopt a particular way of thinking about them, their true intent quickly emerges. Parables are, as we know, stories which operate on a number of different levels. They usually make perfect sense when they are taken at face value but then after further examination the parables also yield up another level of meaning relating to the Kingdom of God.
It seems Jesus' intent therefore is to keep the real message of his teaching somewhat obscure so that it is only able to be understood by the determined listener. Actually, this method is a good one because it means that the more determined listeners when they gain insight into the meaning of a particular parable feel as though scales have dropped from their eyes. This good feeling that comes when they have gained insight into Jesus’ meaning excites them and fills them with hope.
These determined listeners start to listen to Jesus always expecting that there is a deeper meaning below the surface of the words he speaks to the people. They end up paying very careful attention to the actual words that he uses and they are soon imprinted on their memory. In this way Jesus has ensured that his message is enduring because it will remain in the minds of his followers who will never forget what he has to say.
We should not think that Jesus is being tricky here or making things difficult for ordinary people. He has an important message and he wants it to be accepted by everyone but he realises that people only value those things that they have had to work for. He understands that his deeper message should not come too easily otherwise it will not be valued.
More than this, the fact that the parables need explanation means that people are needed to do this explanation. Obviously, this starts with the disciples but then the circle widens and more and more people are drawn into the role of teachers of the faith, or catechists as we call them today. This helps in the formation of a structure for the early Church and provides it with a way of deepening the beliefs of the people.
As an increasing number of people end up reflecting on the content of the faith in the context of their everyday lives they find that their spirituality becomes ever deeper and more profound. Their faith deepens, and this has an effect on their prayer lives and on the morals that they choose to live by.
It would be true to say that the parables are the seed-bed for the development of a truly Christian theology.
This parable about the Sower and the Seed is rather interesting. Of course, we have to ignore the fact that the farmer in the story is very inefficient. A proper farmer would have spent good money buying seed and would not waste it by scattering it willy-nilly. He would ensure that as much as possible fell in the good soil where it would produce the very best results.
But we are dealing with God and his Word here and not a real farmer with real seeds. And God can afford to be extravagant and indeed we know that he spreads his Word far and wide seemingly quite careless of the reception it gets. This is actually a good lesson for us; because we tend to think that the Word of God is to be found primarily in the Church or in other holy places, but actually this is not so.
The Word of God is to be found absolutely everywhere. For many years I worked in a prison and you would be surprised how often discussions about God and the meaning of life took place among the prisoners. When I talked to them about beliefs and the truths of the Gospel I usually found them to be very interested and they always had questions and wanted explanations about the things they read about in the Gospels.
Much less interested were my people back in the parish; they tended to be preoccupied with other matters such as bringing up their children and getting promoted at work. Good people though they were, it was always more difficult to get them into discussions about the meaning of life of the place of prayer or other important topics.
So, God is very liberal and he lets his Word fall in all sorts of different places and we find that it is quite difficult to work out what constitutes the good or bad soil we heard about in the parable. What to us might appear to be rather good soil may turn out to be completely infertile. And people and places that we think might turn out to be unreceptive to God’s Word may actually be where it is embraced most fully.
The point of the reading is that we should constantly ask ourselves what kind of soil we are? Are our hearts full of stones or thorns? Or are our hearts places of rich and fertile soil that enables the Word of God to bear a rich harvest? Do we see his Word multiplying before our eyes? Is the harvest that we bring in going to be a hundredfold or something far more modest?