Hear The Parable of the Sower
Ordinary 15 Year A
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Matthew 13: 1 — 23
Meditation on the Word of God is seldom mentioned directly in the New Testament unlike the Old Testament where we read
Psalm 119: A Prayer of Abiding In the Word.
• V. 11 “I treasure your word in my heart.”
• V. 97 “How I love your Law, O Lord! It is my meditation all
• V. 148 “My eyes are awake through the night-watches, that I
may meditate on your word.”
When we read the New Testament wisely, however, and listen to the first Christians, we soon realise that our Lord intended His disciples to build upon the spiritual teaching of the Old Testament, for as He taught: He had come to bring it to fulfilment, and not to displace it. Meditation on the Word of God is therefore carefully integrated within the whole of Jesus’ message; never isolated. But never does He teach his disciples profound spiritual truth without underscoring the need to ponder it, treasure it in the heart, and allow it to take root and grow the way God planned. It is with this thought in mind that we look upon this Gospel text as our “flagship” Scripture in helping people meditate on Biblical passages.
The text for our meditation, our pondering and intimate engagement, is a parable, the first of its kind in Matthew, requiring interpretation by Jesus. All parables require to be meditated upon, or they would hardly be parables.
Our Lord began his ministry teaching in what we might label “straight talk”, or simple stories. He did not begin using parables like this until He encountered people’s refusal to receive His teaching about the Kingdom of God.
Why did Jesus resort to parables? Anyone who has reflected on a parable will agree that parables:—
• arrest our attention
• remain in the memory
• unfold the full meaning gradually and never in one immediate instant.
So, we ask again — why did our Lord use parables? Many commentators compare our Lord’s teaching methods with those of (what to us is) the ancient world. But as we will see later, Jesus took an old rabbinic method and transformed it. His parables remain relevant — they have not dated nor become obscure for over 2,000 years.
This parable of the Sower is a “parable” lesson plan which is, in every respect, as applicable today as it was in our Lord’s time. It is a magnificent instruction which can be delivered in a moment or dwelt on for several hours, according to circumstances. It invites us to return to it and reflect on its content as often as we choose. It is a powerful and forthright disclosure by our Lord Jesus about our lofty calling and the dangers which lurk in the shadows to divert us into chaos and destruction.
The parable can guide us on our own path as Christ’s disciples, and it can also be used by us in our spreading widely the wonderful invitation the Lord asks us to extend to others.
So now let us walk slowly through this piece of very special intensive training and unpack it, carefully respecting our Lord’s method and chosen style.
(For a more detailed introduction: Parables of the Kingdom, from The Gospel Story, by R. Cox. This is an important paper for those who benefit from a little deeper study.)
Some Reflections On The Text
Part 1 — (Verses 1—9)
Jesus delivers His parable to the crowd.
On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by
One day, after a very heavy teaching schedule in or near Peter’s home, Jesus leaves the house and walks down to the lakeside. There he sits and rests, until a crowd gathers around. He steps into an average sized fishing boat, and sits down again.
This scene and account are here recorded by St Matthew who depicts Jesus taking a seat where all can see and hear Him, as a typical rabbi of his day, preparing to impart instruction.
Verses 2 and 3
Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a
boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
“A sower went out to sow”.
As the crowd settles and recognises that Jesus is ready to address them, our Lord points to a man on a hillside not far from the lake:
“See the sower”, (a more literal translation), hinting that they
will be thinking about what he is doing. He continues, “he has
gone out to sow seed”.
Verse 4 — 9
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.”
As was the custom, the farmer sowed the seed all over the field prior to ploughing it. The seed seemed to fall on four quite different types of ground:
First: Some fell on the well-trodden paths the surface of which was
HARD and would let nothing through. The seed stayed on the surface
and not unexpectedly, the birds soon ate it all up.
Second: Some fell on stoney ground which had only SHALLOW soil.
They germinated all right and began to grow, but without proper
roots they couldn’t survive in the heat.
Third: Some fell into the brambles and became ENTANGLED with
them. They choked the life out of the young plants from the time
Fourth: But some seed fell on RICH soil and grew full of abundant
LIFE. This seed produced a bumper crop; some a hundred fold,
some sixty, and some thirty: all available for spreading by the Lord,
Our Lord rounds His parable off with a piece of advice: to extend
the harvest further and further. “If you — and that means
anybody — have ears to hear, you had better listen!”
We could be forgiven for thinking this is a parable about four types of soil, or four groups of people. But that would be only one way of looking at it: only part of the picture. As Jesus progresses, we slowly “get the drift”. This Messiah who has given up everything to fulfil the mission on which He has been sent, has to watch patiently His teaching be treated carelessly by people in many different frames of mind. Even some of His own followers slip from time to time into these different “places”. His call reaches out to all of us: we all need to be listening constantly to Him!
Part 2 — (Verses 10—17)
Jesus justifies speaking in parables.
Verses 10 — 17
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; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be
This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they
look but do not see and hear but do not listen or
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 heart 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.
A few of our Lord’s closest disciples notice that a lot of the people listening are confused and feeling somewhat exasperated by His teaching. He is not halfway through His special delivery of seven major parables and He appears already to be heading for trouble. The disciples walk over to him and, standing in the water beside the boat, quietly tell Him what they think He needs to hear. Their exact words were, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
We can easily sense what they are politely trying to convey:
“What are you talking in such riddles for? You haven’t done it before;
it doesn’t seem a very good idea. No one can understand a word
you’re saying! If you go on like this there won’t be anybody left to teach!”
Our Lord does not answer quite as they expected. Instead He continues teaching in a quiet tone that only those next to Him can hear. And they get more than they bargained for! At the risk of being a little prosaic, we might paraphrase the explanation of Jesus like this:
“I am not hiding anything from anyone who wants to know.
I am simply leading people, who do want to understand, into a
discovery of truth. Those seeking spiritual truth will be encouraged
and led further into the understanding they genuinely seek.
Those who have little energy to pursue spiritual things or want
profound understanding dropped into their lap, will find that
truth eludes them. Those who are only curious and have no
intention to pursue any depth of understanding will be baffled,
if not offended.”
Jesus then quotes from Isaiah 6: 9 and 10.
And he replied: Go and say to this people: Listen carefully,
but you shall not understand! Look intently, but you shall
You are to make the heart of this people sluggish, to dull their
ears and close their eyes; Else their eyes will see, their ears
hear, their heart understand, and they will turn and be healed.
“This prophecy,” says Jesus, “is fulfilled in these people”. It was fulfilled in Isaiah’s own day, and so it will continue while people only listen to what they want to hear, and while false teachers tell them only what they want to know. In other words, people have always been baffled and always will be unless they:
• listen with an open mind and heart for knowledge of the secrets of heaven;
• commit themselves to me and my message;
• live lives resplendent with the joy of being my disciples.
We need to note that the Apostles, themselves, were more than a little puzzled by the parable. Their attitude was right: it is God who speaks in the Scriptures, and it is God who gives understanding of what they contain. His truths He conceals from the proud, while He reveals them to the lowly and humble.
Fr. G. L. Haydock (1859) offers a good Hebrew understanding to help us perceive our Lord’s mind and method.
“All comes from God. It is He who opens our ears to hear, our heart to
believe, and our mind to understand. Hagar (Gen 21: 19) was near a
well, and yet she wept, because she had no water to give her son to drink.
God opened her eyes, and she saw the well that was close to her.
Thus says Origen (approx. 250 — 350 C.E.), we may read the Scripture
and find no nourishment for the soul unless God opens our mind, to see
therein on what we are to nourish it. It contains salutary waters, but
only those can be benefited by them, who see how to drink of the
heavenly source. It is the Holy Spirit alone who can effectually open
our eyes, to see these waters that spring up to life eternal; and this
special grace we are to obtain by humble and fervent prayer.
“Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
Our Lord concludes his justification for speaking in parables by acknowledging that His loyal disciples who have come around Him are blessed because it is God’s good pleasure that they should be given understanding and spiritual perception. Clearly He is warmed by their concern for the crowd, and even their demand for an explanation from Him, for the sake of their fellow countrymen.
For a deeper probe into Part 2, see:Appendix: Footnotes — Section 2.
Part 3 — (Verses 18—23)
Jesus Explains His Parable
Verses 18 — 23
“Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word
of the kingdom
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.”
Our Lord then, still speaking privately to His close disciples, moves the conversation on with an explanation of the inner meaning on the parable. It is interesting that He here calls it (in verse 18) “the parable of the sower”. Some modern commentators call it the “parable of the soils,” since it is the four different soils He seems to focus on. Whilst this is true, there is an important reason for us to retain the title of the parable as given by Jesus, since it is very much about His mission and His calling us to join with Him in it.
The parable of the sower is now explained.
Hard encrusted soil
Those who receive the seed “on the path”, i.e. on the hard, beaten down,
soil pathway simply do not let it take root. The soil is hard and utterly
impervious. People whose hearts are like this do not take in the
“word of the kingdom”. They have their opportunity but put no value
on what the “word” contains. To them it is worthless. In no time the
“wicked one” comes and snatches it away. They may hear, but certainly
give no time to reflecting on the message and do not try to deepen
Those whose hearts are like the thin layer of soil covering hard rocks,
hear the “word of the kingdom” joyfully. However, their culture is
shallow and is built on the immediate, the obvious (or what appears to
them as such), and the simplistic. Yes, they hear, but they do not
persevere, especially in adversity. When the going is good they are
all bubble and bluster; but when confronted with the deeper issues
they are nowhere to be found. Why is this?
They will not engage with the message and commit themselves to it.
Entangled overgrown soil
Those who let their hearts be infested with thorns and brambles
also hear the “word of the kingdom”; but not for long! These people,
despite what they may say or try to portray, care little for spiritual
treasure. They seek after material well-being, personal status, and
popular appeal at the expense of the spiritual. If they appear to
have any interest in the spiritual, it is because it suits their real motives.
They allow teaching to take root in their midst which is actually
contrary to the “word of the kingdom”. It suits their purposes,
panders to their self-interests, and in a superficial way can be
made “to fit”, to belong, and to seem productive.
Deep, rich soil, full of Life
Finally there are those who receive the word on “good ground”.
This soil is deep, well tilled, and kept free of error, personal
ambitions and secret agendas. These people hear the word of
the kingdom the way it has been taught by the Lord, and do
not seek to distort it for their own ends. They alone truly
understand it, and in doing so bear the fruit intended by the
Lord, indeed, producing lavishly.
The climax of this long lesson is contained in the final verse (23) — if we may paraphrase it:
“My teaching”, declares Jesus, “is concealed from the unfit,
but is freely and abundantly available to those who: hear,
understand, and bear fruit (i.e. pass on new life).”
From this we take the lesson which is so critical for those who would claim to be his disciples.
“It takes no special ability to hear”, Jesus intimates, “but my
disciples will do more. They will be listening constantly”.
“Those who listen with the ears of the heart will keep on listening,
constantly abiding in my word. They will treasure the
“Word of the Kingdom” in their hearts (Psalm 119: 11).
They will ponder it; meditate on it all day long (Psalm 119: 97),
meaning, frequently. They will avoid becoming entangled in
worldly pursuits, and even at times give up legitimate sleep,
in order to meditate on my word (Psalm 119: 148).
These are the ones who will receive what cannot be obtained
except from God, and what cannot be taken away from them:
they will receive the priceless gift of understanding.”
“These, and only these will bear the fruit of the word I share
with them”, Jesus teaches. “They will produce, and in doing
so, will faithfully obey “the word of the kingdom”. For the
fruit they bear will be made available for those in turn who
will be seeking spiritual sustenance, and whom God wills should
receive it from truly obedient followers”.
Listening to, meditating on, and producing fruit of “the word of the kingdom”. This is the calling of those to whom it has been given to know the mysteries* of the kingdom. (verse 11).
*(Greek, ta mysteria, “the secrets of the kingdom”; known by secret, confidential speech, the whisperings of the heart.)
As true disciples of Jesus, and trying to produce the “fruit of the word”, we will encounter the same resistance and treatment that the Lord Himself experienced. At all times however, we are to remember that, as we obey His commands and perform our role, He is the sower of the seed, that is, of the word, not us! We may or may not see the harvest we hope and pray for. That is not for us to be preoccupied with; after all, it is God’s decision as to where, when and how much the harvest will be. Enough for us to carry out the intended teaching of Jesus,
we receive and listen to —
we meditate on and commit ourselves to —
we produce and share fruit of —
“the word of the kingdom”.
What a glorious calling we have!
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Footnotes — Section 2
The disciples approached him and said,
“Why do you speak to them in parables?”
• Our Lord is very aware He is speaking to a crowd among whom are some extremely hardened souls. Some people misapply His explanation and think God is closing the ears and eyes of those people, and that Jesus more or less writes them off as a lost cause. Not so! They are free to reject His message, but it must be delivered freely to all.
St. Jerom (2nd century) taught:
“Jesus Christ speaks sometimes in plain, and sometimes in obscure
terms, that, by what they understand, they may be led to the search
of what they do not understand.” (See G. L. Haydock)
• In times of persecution in any era, growing fears of political or financial collapse, or any major change (in culture or prevailing philosophy), which has come into focus, it is soon apparent if the common people have been properly prepared by those whose responsibility it is to do so. Back in our Lord’s time, the common people were not adequately prepared by the teaching authorities, for the advent of the Messiah.
A. Jones writes thus in his commentary:
“The mass of Jewish people were ill-prepared for a direct and sudden
revelation of its profound nature. The indirect teaching by parable
must for the time suffice; direct light would only blind.”
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.
• Our Lord reminds the close disciples that “knowledge of the mysteries,” amounts to a sheer gift from God. Jesus implies that God gives understanding especially to those who take His message seriously and work hard on “getting to grips” with it — with all their strength and agility.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow
rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be
• Jesus adds that greater insight is given to those who used all God’s gifts to them in a generous spirit. He bestows special gifts in response to their faithfulness to graces already received.
• Our Lord’s expression here seems to us a little unusual. He is drawing on an old rabbinic style. We have a later recorded version of it from around C.E. 300.
Rabbi Zera (Zeira or Ze’eira) said:
“Observe how the character of the Holy One, blessed be He,
differs from that of flesh and blood. A mortal can put something
into an empty vessel but not into a full one; but the Holy One,
blessed be He, is not so, He puts more into a full vessel; but
not into an empty one.”
Verses 13 — 15
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 heart and be converted, and I heal them.’
• There is a key understanding we need to have regarding our Lord’s attitude towards His peers — His fellow rabbis, especially the authorities, some of whom were corrupt. A good starting point is His freference to the Prophet Isaiah 6: 9 — 10.
Monseignor R. Knox offered this footnote on the above text:
“The effect of prophecy or preaching, if it is met by the impenitent
attitude, is to put the hearer in a worse frame of mind than ever,
since the message has become staled by repetition.”
The esteemed Jesuit scholar, c.c. Martindale, S. J., discussing Isaiah’s text, wrote:
There God tells the prophet to speak to the People, that He may harden
their hearts, stop their ears, seal their eyes, lest they be converted.
There is here a bitter irony. ‘Give the People a last chance — not that
they will take it! They will be still more obstinate in not seeing, hearing,
in hardening their hearts.’ A consequence is regarded as a purpose.
This is a thoroughly Hebrew way of speaking, since the Hebrew put
everything down to the direct will and act of God. This is softened
by the LXX (see Footnote), which is what St. Matthew quotes, so
what is sure to happen is stated rather than what is intended
to happen. We cannot then be sure exactly of what words our Lord
used in His allusion to the prophecy: but we can be sure of His intention,
which was (Mark 4: 33), to tell the people as much as they could
assimilate, while providing them with a stimulus to look farther than the
mere story. This gentle, loving method turned into a punishment
only when hearers (despite, we may add, witnessing the miracles)
refused to look farther, or to admit what as a matter of fact they saw.
LXX — The Roman number for 70 refers to the Greek Old Testament translated
from the Hebrew, Jewish tradition teaches, by 70 great scribes and rabbis.
This Greek version is what the first Christians used and quoted.
Verses 16 and 17
“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.
• The Lord acknowledges that His chosen Apostles look upon Him as the One to whom the Prophets pointed. He calls them blessed and implies that they can, especially after beholding Him in person, pass on their blessedness to others. He also draws attention to the fact that their insight and understanding are privileges. They are the free gift of God and are not to be taken for granted; but treasured and looked after.
End of Appendix
Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
Hear the parable of the sower.
Ordinary 15 Year A St. Matthew 13: 1 to 23
□ Jesus came to fulfill the Father’s Divine Will for us:—
□ Jesus expects us as His disciples to:—
□ Our Saviour warns of three main dangers:—
2. Our Lord did not tell this parable so that we could classify everyone we know into the category of soil we think they fit. His parable certainly helps us understand the different responses we can expect regarding our “distribution” of His message. However, we would benefit from realising that we ourselves may well be displaying some of the characteristics of hardness, shallowness, and entanglement. In fact, some of us may well consider that at certain stages of our life, we too have actually been located in the hard or shallow soil and not really been effective in the Faith. We may even have been in the “rich soil, but became distracted by other priorities, resulting in loss of fervour.
Our Lord does not send people on guilt-trips but mirrors reality to us for our sakes. This enables us to correct our own behaviour before trying to enlist others in the Lord’s service. It is a matter of practising what we preach.
3. Any gardner will tell you that the soil does not remain rich and full of life unless you keep, literally, enriching it: applying a wide range of supplements to promote nourishment and growth. Our Lord emphasises the need to keep nurturing the spiritual LIFE with all it needs to flourish and give rise to new seeds and plants — new LIFE.
Meditating on the “Torah” — which means “Words of Life” — Jesus’ Torah — will keep us well nourished and equipped to pass on His Words of Life and Love. The great blessing is that we can all be doing it in our own way, at our own pace, wherever we are.
Let us pray for one another that we will take His call to discipleship seriously and keep
Thank You, Lord Jesus.
A Treasury of Meditation
We consider this lesson to be of such importance that we have attached a supplement of readings from esteemed teachers of the Christian spiritual tradition. Together they form a veritable treasury of our spiritual heritage. All the readings come from books long out of print as far as we know. If we reprint here anything still under copyright we apologise and seek the advice of any publisher concerned. The supplement contains the following:
• 18th Century: Considerations by Rt. Rev. Dr Challoner
• 19th Century: Commentary by Abbot Gueranger
• 19th Century: On the Power of God’s Word by L. Goffine
• 20th Century: The Divine Seed by Fr Gabriel
• 20th Century: “Parables of the Kingdom” by R Cox
• Acknowledgements of original publishers
There are many, many fine contemporary commentaries and articles available via Internet and local bookshops. We have gathered some older material for your use, since obtaining some of these works today could be difficult.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Challoner
1. Consider, in this parable, the infinite riches of the goodness and bounty of the Son of God, who, without distinction or respect of persons, sows so plentifully the seed of His word, and of His graces, on all kinds of soils. This seed is heavenly, it is capable of producing fruit an hundredfold. He is the sower, and waters with rain from heaven the seed. He has sown, and yet three parts in four of this divine seed are lost for want of a correspondence in the soil. Christian, see in what manner you receive the seed of God’s word, see how you correspond with the divine graces and calls; your eternal salvation is at stake. If you bring forth good fruit, the result of this divine seed, you shall live on it for endless ages in the kingdom of heaven; but if you suffer the soil of your soul to be like a beaten highway, or like a rock covered with a thin surface of earth, or like ground overrun with thorns and briars, the seed of God will be lost upon you, and you will be answerable for the loss of it, and miserable for all eternity.
2. Consider what is meant by the highway, where the seed is trodden under foot, or picked up by the birds; and see how justly such souls are compared to a highway or beaten path, as live in forgetfulness of God, and in continual dissipation of thought, so as to become a mere thoroughfare for every passenger that pleases, that is, for every idle amusement that offers itself, for every impertinent or sinful imagination, without any sense at all of the fear of God, or any care to keep off those wicked spirits, signified by the birds, which are ever upon the watch to snatch away this divine seed of God’s word, that lies thus unregarded on the surface of the soul. But what is the remedy for this evil? No other, be sure, than to plough up this ground that has hitherto been made a highway; to fence it in, so that passengers may have no longer liberty to be continually trampling it under foot; and to harrow it, so that the seed may be covered by the earth, and lie no longer exposed to be a prey to the birds.
For a highway or beaten path, so long as it remains such, can never bring forth fruit. Now, in the spiritual sense, we plough up the soil of the soul by daily meditation upon eternal truths; we fence it in by a spirit of recollection; and we preserve the divine seed, which is to make it fruitful, from our spiritual enemies, by letting it sink deep into our souls, and guarding it by watching and prayer.
3. Consider who they are that are meant by the rock or stony ground, where there is no depth of earth, nor proper moisture to nourish the seed, so as to bring the fruit to maturity; viz., such souls as receive indeed the word of God, and are moved by it to make some good resolutions, and some slender efforts towards bringing forth the fruits of a new life ; but the rock of their old bad habits (which they have never heartily renounced) hinders the seed from taking root: their resolutions are but superficial, they do not sink in deep enough to reach or change the heart, but upon the first opposition or temptation they wither away and die. The remedy here must be, to procure that this rock may be softened, by means of long continued application to mental prayer and other spiritual exercises; till those old habits are brought to give way to the fear and love of God, which are capable of breaking even the rock in pieces and changing it into fruitful soil.
Resolve to be ever attentive to the gracious calls of the word of God, and of His heavenly inspirations, and to let this divine seed sink deep into thy soul by daily meditation.
By Abbot Gueranger
St. Gregory the Great justly remarks, that this parable needs no explanation, since eternal Wisdom Himself has told us its meaning. All that we have to do is to profit by this divine teaching, and become the good soil, wherein the heavenly seed may yield a rich harvest. How often have we, hitherto, allowed it to be trampled on by them that passed by, or to be torn up by the birds of the air! How often has it found our heart like a stone, that could give no moisture, or like a thorn plot, that could but choke! We listened to the word of God; we took pleasure in bearing it; and from this we argued well for ourselves. Nay, we have often received this word with joy and eagerness. Sometimes, even, it took root within us. But, alas! something always came to stop its growth. Henceforth, it must both grow and yield fruit. The seed given to us is of such quality, that the divine Sower has a right to expect ‘a hundred-fold’. If the soil, that is, our heart, be good; if we take the trouble to prepare it, by profiting by the means afforded us by the Church; we shall have an abundant harvest to show our Lord on that grand day, when, rising triumphant from His tomb, He will come to share with His faithful people the glory of His Resurrection.
On the Power of God’s Word
By L Goffine
The word of God is compared by the Prophet Jeremias, to a hammer which crushes hearts as hard as rocks, and to a fire that dries up the swamps of vice, and consumes inveterate evil habits (Jeremiah 23: 29). The Psalmist compares it to thunder that makes all tremble, a storm-wind that bends and breaks the cedars of Lebanon, that is, proud and obstinate spirits; a light that dispels the darkness of ignorance; and a remedy that cures sin (Psalms 28: 3, 5; 119: 105). St. Paul compares it to a sword that divides the body from the soul, that is, the carnal desires from the spirit (Hebrews 4: 12); the Apostle James to a mirror in which man sees his stains and his wrongs (James 1: 23), the Prophet Isaiah to a precious rain that moistens the soil of the soul and fertilizes it (Isaiah 55:10-11); and Jesus Himself compares it to a seed that when it falls on good ground, brings forth fruit a hundredfold (Luke 8: 8). One single grain of this divine seed produced the most marvellous fruits of sanctity in St. Augustine, St. Anthony the Great, in St. Nicholas of Tolentino, and others; for St. Augustine was converted by the words: “Let us walk honestly as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities not in contention and envy” (Romans 13: 13). St. Anthony by the words: “If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19: 21). Nicholas of Tolentino was brought to Christian perfection by the words: “Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world” (I John. 2: 15).
How should we prepare ourselves to be benefited by the word of God?
We must be good well-tilled soil, that is, we must have a heart that loves truth, desires to learn, and humbly and sincerely seeks salvation; we must listen to the word of God with due preparation and attention, keep the divine truths we have heard in our heart, frequently consider and strive to fulfill them.
What should be done before the sermon?
We should endeavor to purify our conscience, for, as St. Chrysostom demands; “Who would pour precious juice into a vessel that is not clean, without first washing it?” We should, therefore, at least cleanse our hearts by an ardent sorrow for our sins, because the spirit of truth enters not into the sinful soul (Wisdom 1:4); we should ask the Holy Ghost for the necessary enlightenment for little or no fruit can be obtained from a sermon if it is not united with prayer; we should listen to the sermon with a good motive, that is, with a view of hearing something edifying and instructive; if we attend only through curiosity, the desire to hear something new, to criticize the preacher, or to see and to be seen, we are like the Pharisees who for such and similar motives went to hear Christ and derived no benefit therefrom. “As a straight sword goes not into a crooked sheath, so the word of God enters not into a heart that is filled with improper motives.” We should strive to direct our minds rightly, that is, to dispel all temporal thoughts, all needless distraction, otherwise the wholesome words would fall but upon the ears, would not penetrate the heart, and the words of Christ be fulfilled: They have ears, and hear not.
How should we comport ourselves during the sermon?
We should listen to the sermon with earnest, reverent attention, for God speaks to us through His servants, and Christ says to them: Who hears you, hears me (Luke 10: 16). We must listen to the preachers, therefore, not as to men, but as to God’s ambassadors, for every preacher can say with St. Paul: We are ambassadors for Christ, God, as it were, exhorting by us (II Corinthians 5:20). “If,” says St. Chrysostom, “when the letter of a king is read, the greatest quiet and attention prevails, that nothing may be lost, how much more should we listen with reverence and perfect silence to the word of God?” The word of God is, and ever will be, a divine seed, which, when properly received, produces precious fruit by what preacher soever sowed; for in the sowing it matters not what preacher sows, but what soil is sowed.
Be careful, also, that you do not apply that which is said to others, but take it to yourself, or the sermon will be of no benefit to you. Are you free from those vices which the preacher decries and against which he battles? Then, thank God, but do not despise others who are perhaps laboring under them, rather pray that they may be released and you preserved from falling into them. Keep also from sleeping, talking, and other distractions, and remember, that whoever is of God, also willingly hears his word (John. 8: 47).
What should be done after the sermon?
We should then strive to put into practice the good we have heard, for God justifies not those who hear the law, but those who keep it (Romans 2: 13), and those who hear the word of God and do not conform their lives to it, are like the man who looks into the mirror, and having looked into it goes away, and presently forgets what manner of man he is (James 1:23-24). To practice that which has been heard, it is above all necessary that it should be kept constantly in mind, and thoughtfully considered. St. Bernard says: “Preserve the word of God as you would meat for your body, for it is a life-giving bread, and the food of your soul. Happy those, says Christ, who keep it. Receive it, therefore, into your soul’s interior, and let it reach your morals and your actions.”
That food which cannot be digested, or is at once thrown out, is useless; the food should be well masticated, retained, and by the digestive powers worked up into good blood. So not only on the day, but often during the week, that which was heard in the sermon should be thought of and put into practice. Speak of it to others, thus will much idle talk be saved, many souls with the grace of God roused to good, and enlightened in regard to the evil they had not before seen in themselves and in future will avoid. Let us listen to others when they repeat what was said in the sermon. Heads of families should require their children and domestics to relate what they have heard preached. Let us also entreat God to give us grace that we may be enabled to practice the precepts given us.
How much am I shamed, O my God, that the seed, of Thy Divine, word, which Thou hast sowed so often and so abundantly in my heart, has brought forth so little fruit! Ah! Have mercy on me, and so change my heart, that it may become good soil, in which Thy word may take root, grow without hinderance, and finally bring forth fruits of salvation. Amen.
(Modified slightly for Internet use.)
The Divine Seed
By Fr Gabriel
Presence of God
O Lord, I am here before You. Grant that my heart may be the good ground, ready to receive Your divine word.
1. Today Jesus, the divine Sower, comes to scatter the good seed in His vineyard the Church. He wishes to prepare our souls for a new blossoming of grace and virtue.
2. “The seed is the word of God.” Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, eternal Utterance of the Father, came to sow this word in the hearts of men; it is, as it were, a reflection of Himself. The divine word is not a sound which strikes the air and disappears rapidly like the word of men; it is a supernatural light which reveals the true value of things; it is grace, the source of power and strength to help us live according to the light of God. Thus it is a seed of supernatural life, of sanctity, of eternal life. This seed is never sterile in itself; it always has a vital, powerful strength, capable of producing not only some fruits of Christian life, but abundant fruits of sanctity. This seed is not entrusted to an inexperienced husbandman who, because of his ignorance, might ruin the finest sowing. It is Jesus Himself, the Son of God, who is the Sower.
Then why does the seed not always bring forth the desired fruit? Because very often the ground which receives it does not have the requisite qualities. God never stops sowing the seed in the hearts of men; He invites them, He calls them continually by His light and His appeals; He never ceases giving His grace by means of the Sacraments; but all this is vain and fruitless unless man offers God a good ground, that is, a heart, well prepared and disposed. God wills our salvation and sanctification, but He never forces us; He respects our liberty.
3. Today’s Gospel (Luke 8: 4 — 15) mentions four categories of people who receive the seed of the divine word in different ways. It compares them to the hard ground, to the stony soil, to the earth choked with thorns, and lastly, to the good fertile field.
The hard ground: souls that are frivolous, dissipated, open to all distractions, rumors, and curiosity; admitting all kinds of creatures and earthly affections. The word of God hardly catches the heart when the enemy, having free access, carries it off, thus preventing it from taking root.
The stony ground: superficial souls with only a shallow layer of good earth, which will be rapidly blown away, along with the good seed, by the winds of passion. These souls easily grow enthusiastic, but do not persevere and “in time of temptation fall away.” They are unstable, because they have not the courage to embrace renunciation and to make the sacrifices which are necessary if one wishes to remain faithful to the word of God and to put it into practice in all circumstances. Their fervor is a straw fire which dies down and goes out in the face of the slightest difficulty.
The ground covered with thorns: souls that are preoccupied with worldly things, pleasures, material interests and affairs. The seed takes root, but the thorns soon choke it by depriving it of air and light. Excessive solicitude for temporal things eventually stifles the rights of the spirit.
Lastly, the good ground is compared by Jesus to those who, with a good and upright heart, hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience. The good and upright heart is the one which always gives first place to God, which seeks before everything else the kingdom of God and His justice. The seed of the divine word will bear abundant fruit in proportion to the good dispositions it finds in us: recollection, a serious and profound interior life, detachment, sincere seeking for the things of God above and beyond all earthly things, and finally, perseverance, without which the word of God cannot bear its fruit in us.
An Intimate Prayer
O Jesus, divine Sower, rightly do You complain of the arid, sterile ground of my poor heart. What an abundant sowing of holy inspirations, interior lights, and grace You have cast into my heart! How many times You have invited me to come to You by special appeals, and how many times have I stopped, after following You for a short time! 0 Lord, if only I could understand the fundamental reason for my spiritual sterility, my instability and inconstancy in good! Will Your light fail me! No, for You are continually instructing and admonishing my soul in a thousand ways. Oh! if so many souls living in error and not knowing You had received but a hundredth part of the light which You have given me so profusely, how much fruit would they not have drawn from it!
Will Your grace fail me? Is not Your grace my strength? O Lord, I see that neither Your light nor Your strength will fail me; what I lack is the perseverance which can faithfully withstand temptations, difficulties, and darkness, which can face courageously the sacrifices and austerity of the Christian life. It is easy to make sacrifices and to renounce oneself for a day, but it is hard to keep on doing it always, everyday of our life. Is this not the reason that You said, 0 Lord, that the good heart brings forth fruit “in patience”?
O Jesus, who endured with invincible patience Your most sorrowful Passion and death, give me the patience I need to keep up the struggle against my passions and my selflove, patience to embrace with perseverance all the sacrifices required by total detachment, to be able to live without personal satisfactions and pleasures, to do everything that is repugnant to me, that hurts me, that crosses me and is displeasing to my self-love.
O Lord, You know that I desire total purification because I long for union with You; but You cannot purify me entirely if I cannot accept patiently Your work: the trials, humiliations and detachments that You prepare for me. O Jesus, divine Sufferer, give me Your patience; make me, like Yourself humble and patient.
Parables of the Kingdom
By R Cox
From childhood every Hebrew was familiar with the parable form of instruction. It had been popularised by the writings and sayings of king Solomon, about 1,000 B.C. It is a simple and primitive technique: a description of the familiar things of daily life, with a deeper meaning hidden within. The oriental mind delighted in probing and searching for this hidden lesson. The story form, in which it was told, made it easy to remember; its enigmatic nature stimulated thought and provoked enquiry. It was both obvious and obscure, with all the fascination of a simple but ingenious puzzle. The Jewish rabbis made great use of it in their instruction; yet none of their parables approach that simplicity and vividness so characteristic of our Lord’s. (See Footnote 1.)
It would seem that our Lord now began this form of instruction for the first time. It marked a definite stage in his ministry; a caution and care in describing his kingdom, because of the false picture in the minds of his hearers. Had he told them in plain language what his kingdom was to be (especially its universality, the call of the Gentiles), they would have rejected him at once. The crowds had been following him for more than six months; his personality, his eloquence, and his miracles had captivated them; but their ideas had not been changed. They must, then, be taught to think, to reason and so to understand and accept his kingdom. This is the purpose of the parables. The truth is there, but hidden; the crowds will puzzle over and remember these picturesque stories when many other sayings of his will have been long forgotten. In the course of time, those who are rightly disposed will see, and understand. (See Footnote 2). In the meantime he can continue his instructions before the very eyes of those Pharisees who are watching to catch him out in his words, and so bring about his death. Thirty of our Lord’s parables are recorded in the gospels (also thirty miracles). Eight of them (See footnote 3) are given here as a group; they could quite easily have been spoken in one day – Parable Day. Four of them, concerned with the sowing of crops, seem to indicate the time of the early winter rains, which fall in November.
The location of all eight parables is probably the rocky promontory between Am Tineh and Tabgha. Six months before, our Lord used Simon’s boat as a pulpit in this same place. It is now the time of the early rains. Grey clouds fill the sky, and the farmers are busy scratching the reddish brown earth with their primitive wooden ploughs, pulled by a yoke of oxen. It is the time to sow wheat and barley, the two important grain crops in Palestine. There are no fenced paddocks; a cairn of stones is all there is to mark boundaries. In one plot of ploughed ground, there is the fertile soil of the plain of Genesareth, and the less fertile slopes of the rocky hillside. Running across the field are tracks and rights of way, trodden hard by animals and men: the plough scarcely marks them. The sower broadcasts his wheat by hand from an apron sack round his waist; the sparrows and pigeons follow him as he walks along. The cause of the sudden growth on rocky soil is that moisture cannot sink in; it remains on the topsoil. ‘Briers’ stand for thorns and thistles, a new growth that comes up with the wheat. The average yield from good soil by the lakeside is about forty fold; a hundredfold would be a bumper crop.
“Why do you speak to them in parables?”
This question was put to our Lord only at the end of the day (See Footnote 4) when they had returned to the house at Capernaum. Often before he had illustrated his teaching with vivid pictures from nature; but now His whole discourse was made up of parables. It was so unusual to hear the Master using such puzzling language. More than that, He seemed to be deliberately hiding the meaning of His words. His reply confirmed this. (see Footnote 5). The crowds were more interested in miracles than a supernatural life of holiness; they would accept Him only in so far as He satisfied their false and settled views of the Messianic kingdom. (See Footnote 6).
And among them were His enemies, the Pharisees, waiting for the words from His mouth that would convict Him. But these parables of His could not be used as evidence in court. There is great drama here: our Lord speaking His secrets to men, who, though they were all ears, yet could not understand.
All could follow the story of the seed sowing, but not even His disciples saw the deeper meaning. They knew He was teaching something important, not painting vivid pictures merely to interest the crowd. Every parable had a hidden meaning; it was important that His chosen followers should know what it was; their duty was to carry His teaching to all nations. The great ‘secret’ of this story was that the seed of God’s grace, the life-giving power that was to bring the kingdom into existence, was to be scattered broadcast: all men, represented by the different kinds of soil, were to have an opportunity of entry. It was not to be restricted to the Jews: ‘through the gospel preaching the Gentiles are to win the same inheritance in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 3: 6).
The only qualities required for membership are right dispositions of mind and will; any person who accepts the standard of the eight beatitudes is suitable soil for God’s grace. So our Lord cuts right across the Jewish conviction that no personal qualification beyond descent from Abraham is required for membership in the kingdom. He further points out three common obstacles to the fructifying of divine grace hardness, shallowness, and entanglement: added to these is the enmity of the devil.
Ronald Cox is not denigrating the teachings of the ancient rabbis, some of which even our Lord studied and used in His teaching. The point here is that the parables of Jesus can now contain and convey a message of fulfilment which no previous teacher of Israel could possibly present.
This is absolutely critical in understanding the purpose and role of parables. They encourage the thinking person to allow their values, viewpoints, and understandings to be transformed in the light of Jesus Messiah, thus to be converted to the mind of Christ.
Most scholars refer to seven main teaching parables: verses 1, 24, 31, 33, 44, 45 and 47. Cox adds the parable in verse 52, which rounds off the intensive instruction from Jesus and affirms the declaration of the disciples that they do indeed understand what they have heard.
Cox bases the time of the day on St Mark’s Gospel account rather than St Matthew’s.
This is meant in the sense that our Lord wanted every single person to hear His message — but if perverse minds were going to distract it, then the meaning would remain hidden until they were ready to understand and accept it.
It is interesting to observe how this preoccupation with miracles, signs and wonders has, in our times, again diverted people from the Jesus of the Gospels and His message.
Acknowledgement of Original Publishers
This supplement includes written material from the following major spiritual publications:
1. “Mediations For Every Day of the Year”
by the Right Rev. Dr Challoner (written A D 1753). Our edition was published by Burns & Oates Ltd, London, 1879 (approx).
2. “The Liturgical Year”
by Abbot Gueranger, OSB, translated from the French in 1949 by Dom Laurence Shepherd and published in that year by St. Bonaventure publications, Montana.
3. “The Church Year”
by Rev. Fr. Leonard Goffine translated from German by Very Rev. Gerard M. Pilz, OSB and published 1880.
4. “Divine Intimacy” (Mediations On the Interior Life For Every Day of the Year)
by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. 1961; translated from the seventh Italian edition by the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Boston, 1964.
5. “The Gospel Story”
by Fr Ronald Cox, published by C.Y.M. Publications, 1957, Auckland.
Matthew 13: 1 — 23
Ordinary 15 Year A
1 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
3 And he spoke to them at length in parables, 2 saying: “A sower went out
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
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
9 Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
10 The disciples approached him and said, “Why do you speak to them in
11 4 He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the
12 To anyone who has, more will be given 5 and he will grow rich; from
13 6 This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not
14 Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear
15 Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they
16 7 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because
17 Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see
18 8 “Hear then the parable of the sower.
19 The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom
20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives
21 But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or
22 The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then
23 But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and
1 [1-53] The discourse in parables is the third great discourse of Jesus in Matthew and constitutes the second part of the third book of the gospel. Matthew follows the Marcan outline (⇒ Mark 4:1-35) but has only two of Mark’s parables, the five others being from Q and M. In addition to the seven parables, the discourse gives the reason why Jesus uses this type of speech (Matthew 10-15), declares the blessedness of those who understand his teaching (Matthew 16-17), explains the parable of the sower (Matthew 18-23) and of the weeds (Matthew 36-43), and ends with a concluding statement to the disciples (Matthew 51-52).
2 [3-8] Since in Palestine sowing often preceded ploughing, much of the seed is scattered on ground that is unsuitable. Yet while much is wasted, the seed that falls on good ground bears fruit in extraordinarily large measure. The point of the parable is that, in spite of some failure because of opposition and indifference, the message of Jesus about the coming of the kingdom will have enormous success.
3  In parables: the word “parable” (Greek parabole) is used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew mashal, a designation covering a wide variety of literary forms such as axioms, proverbs, similitudes, and allegories. In the New Testament the same breadth of meaning of the word is found, but there it primarily designates stories that are illustrative comparisons between Christian truths and events of everyday life. Sometimes the event has a strange element that is quite different from usual experience (e.g., in ⇒ Matthew 13:33 the enormous amount of dough in the parable of the yeast); this is meant to sharpen the curiosity of the hearer. If each detail of such a story is given a figurative meaning, the story is an allegory. Those who maintain a sharp distinction between parable and allegory insist that a parable has only one point of comparison, and that while parables were characteristic of Jesus’ teaching, to see allegorical details in them is to introduce meanings that go beyond their original intention and even falsify it. However, to exclude any allegorical elements from a parable is an excessively rigid mode of interpretation, now abandoned by many scholars.
4  Since a parable is figurative speech that demands reflection for understanding, only those who are prepared to explore its meaning can come to know it. To understand is a gift of God, granted to the disciples but not to the crowds. In Semitic fashion, both the disciples’ understanding and the crowd’s obtuseness are attributed to God. The question of human responsibility for the obtuseness is not dealt with, although it is asserted in ⇒ Matthew 13:13. The mysteries: as in ⇒ Luke 8:10; ⇒ Mark 4:11 has “the mystery.” The word is used in ⇒ Daniel 2:18, ⇒ 19, ⇒ 27 and in the Qumran literature (1QpHab 7:8; 1QS 3:23; 1QM 3:9) to designate a divine plan or decree affecting the course of history that can be known only when revealed. Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven means recognition that the kingdom has become present in the ministry of Jesus.
5  In the New Testament use of this axiom of practical “wisdom” (see ⇒ Matthew 25:29; ⇒ Mark 4:25; ⇒ Luke 8:18; ⇒ 19:26), the reference transcends the original level. God gives further understanding to one who accepts the revealed mystery; from the one who does not, he will take it away (note the “theological passive,” more will be given, what he has will be taken away).
6  Because “they look . . . or understand': Matthew softens his Marcan source, which states that Jesus speaks in parables so that the crowds may not understand (⇒ Mark 4:12), and makes such speaking a punishment given because they have not accepted his previous clear teaching. However, his citation of ⇒ Isaiah 6:9-10 in ⇒ Matthew 13:14 supports the harsher Marcan view.
7 [16-17] Unlike the unbelieving crowds, the disciples have seen that which the prophets and the righteous of the Old Testament longed to see without having their longing fulfilled.
8 [18-23] See ⇒ Mark 4:14-20; ⇒ Luke 8:11-15. In this explanation of the parable the emphasis is on the various types of soil on which the seed falls, i.e., on the dispositions with which the preaching of Jesus is received. The second and third types particularly are explained in such a way as to support the view held by many scholars that the explanation derives not from Jesus but from early Christian reflection upon apostasy from the faith that was the consequence of persecution and worldliness respectively. Others, however, hold that the explanation may come basically from Jesus even though it was developed in the light of later Christian experience. The four types of persons envisaged are (1) those who never accept the word of the kingdom (⇒ Matthew 13:19); (2) those who believe for a while but fall away because of persecution (⇒ Matthew 13:20-21); (3) those who believe, but in whom the word is choked by worldly anxiety and the seduction of riches (⇒ Matthew 13:22); (4) those who respond to the word and produce fruit abundantly (⇒ Matthew 13:23).
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised