Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Multiplication, Not Addition

Today we begin with the parables of Jesus in our Gospel readings. In the next two Sundays we will continue with these parables. So these three Sundays beginning today the Church focuses on the parable chapter of Matthew's Gospel which is chapter 13.

It is important that today we set the background and proper understanding of these parables. All of these parables concern the kingdom or reign of God, his complete dominion over us which Jesus introduced into our world. In these parables Jesus describes the kingdom of God, the central reality he was primarily concerned with since the theme of his preaching was, "Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).

The first parable of Jesus which is the Gospel reading for this Sunday is about the parable of the sower. This is how Jesus called this parable. He said, "Hear then the parable of the sower". This then is about the sower who sows seeds in four different places: on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns and on rich soil. Each of these places has a meaning for Jesus which he explains to his disciples.

Let us first listen to Jesus' explanation of these kinds of places where the seed fell. He said that 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.

He also said that the seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word of the kingdom or reign of God 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. 

According to Jesus the seed sown among thorns is someone who hears the word of the kingdom, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.

Finally, for Jesus the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word of the reign of God and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

Notice what Jesus said in the last part of our Gospel reading. He said that the one who hears the word and understand it is the one who bears fruit.

This means that we need to understand what Jesus said. And we can only do this if we take his own explanation of his own parable. Otherwise we may understand something that was not in the mind of Jesus when he taught this parable. That is why we first listened to what he said was the meaning of his parable of the sower.

We notice Jesus' own title of this parable. As I earlier pointed out, Jesus called it the parable of the sower. Most commentators have turned this into the parable of the different seeds, the seeds on the pathway, the seeds on shallow stony ground, the seeds among thorns and the seeds in good soil. Let us stick to Jesus' own understanding of this parable, the parable of the sower.

Bible commentators agree that the sower here is Jesus. And we too agree. The sower is Jesus himself. As he himself states later in that same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, "The farmer sowing good seed is the son of man" (13:37). But it is not only Jesus who is the sower. The sower is any other person who sows the word of the kingdom among other human beings. And when we understand the reason why this time Jesus preached from a boat along the shore we realize that he was preparing others to sow the seed or the word of the kingdom after he would be gone from them physically.

In the beginning of Jesus' ministry he taught in the synagogues. But we notice that the Jewish leaders became more and more critical of him, opposed him, pushing him out of the synagogues. One time he was even almost physically thrown out of the synagogue into a ravine (Luke 4). That was why Jesus resorted to teaching in the open spaces, away from the synagogues.

This was the reason why Jesus took especial care in explaining his parables to his disciples because he knew that they in turn would be the ones to teach the people about the kingdom of God. They would be the sowers of the word of that kingdom later on.

We add to this the fact that in the succeeding parables in that chapter of Matthew Jesus introduces each one saying, "The reign of God may be likened . . .". We can then reconstruct the introduction of the first parable to "The reign of God may be likened to the sower who sowed seeds." If we accept this reconstruction it is clear that the focus here is about the sower, not about the different kinds of soils which have been the focus of almost all commentaries on this parable.

With this focus, on the sower and not on the soil, we get closer to Jesus' idea. He was telling us that the reign of God is like someone who preaches and teaches about the kingdom of God. Some will not understand him, so the devil takes away what they have heard and puts this into oblivion. Others will receive his message with joy but they soon drift away when difficulties arise. Still others will receive his message and will try to understand it but the cares of life are too much for them, they soon turn away their attention from the kingdom of God. The fourth kind of listeners will not only listen but will understand the message and they will persevere to bear abundant fruit, some thirtyfold, sixtyfold and even a hundred fold.

Jesus wants us to understand that that is the kingdom or reign of God. The sower of this kingdom encounters four different people. But he goes on sowing, knowing that sooner or later there will be an abundant harvest.

What kind of harvest Jesus expected? Just like the harvest of grains. We know that if we plant a grain of seed and this grows and bears fruit, one seed can produce thirty more seeds or sixty or even a hundred seeds.

And here we come to a mathematical description of the increase in the number of fruits of the preaching and teaching of the reign or kingdom of God. Jesus envisions an increase by multiplication, not addition, in the word of the kingdom. In the Acts of the Apostles the Holy Spirit says, "The word of God continued to spread while at the same time the number of the disciples in Jerusalem enormously increased" (Acts 6:7). And in Acts 12:24 we read, "Meanwhile the word of the Lord continued to spread and increase."

The word translated as “increased” is the Greek “epleythuneto” which means "multiplied". So the increase was not by addition but by multiplication.

This was now the fulfillment of Jesus' parable of the sower, the word bore fruit by multiplication, not by addition.

This is the desire of Jesus, that the word of the kingdom spread and multiply by leaps and bounds despite the obstacles.

In the first reading we are told that the word of God is powerful. Isaiah says that
the word of God will not return to him void, but shall do his will, achieving the end for which God sent it. It will make us fruitful. It will spread and will be multiplied among us.

In the second reading we are told by St. Paul the Apostle that this word of God has produced already in us the firstfruits of the Spirit, so that we wait for the redemption of our bodies, the release of our bodies from all suffering and decay into the glory of God himself.

Our responsorial psalm tells us that God shall make the soil of our souls fertile so that we bear fruits for God. He has visited our soul and watered it; greatly has he enriched it. He has prepared the soil in our heart, drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods, softening it with showers, blessing its yield. As St. Paul says elsewhere, "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." (1 Corinthians 3:6 AV).

The kingdom of God has come in Jesus. God reigns over our lives, in every detail of our life through his Spirit. We have been reached by God’s word and this word keeps on spreading, multiplying among us and beyond us. Let us rejoice and give thanks to God.

For our prayer let us say again the responsorial psalm which tells us how God has been good to us, as he enriches the soil of our hearts to receive his word of the kingdom of God. Let us bow our heads.

Lord, You have visited the land and watered it;
greatly have you enriched it.
God's watercourses are filled;
you have prepared the grain.
Thus have you prepared the land: drenching its furrows,
breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.
You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;
The untilled meadows overflow with it,
and rejoicing clothes the hills.
The fields are garmented with flocks
and the valleys blanketed with grain.
They shout and sing for joy. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

No comments:

Post a Comment