Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 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.” 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 taken away. 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 hearts 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. “Hear then the parable of the sower.
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.
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.”
As I read the Gospel passage given to us for our meditation, I thought to myself that the sower was not a very good agriculturist. Anyone who knows anything about agriculture knows that the way the sower went about sowing is not the way to do it. What the sower did was waste time and energy. Perhaps however Jesus was teaching his disciples that at times it is important to waste time and energy even if the results do not seem commensurate with the time and energy spent. In western society of which we form a part, time and energy is quantified. Time means money. Jesus is teaching us something which turns our value system on its head.
The parable tells us that the seed falls on five different types of soil. Only one type of soil can receive the seed. Fully eighty percent of the seed is lost, only twenty percent can produce fruit, and even then the yield is not uniform. The sower doesn’t get a hundred percent from all the seed. Some produce a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty. After telling the parable, Jesus repeats these words which underline the importance of what he is saying, “Listen, anyone who has ears!”.
The culture in which we live makes us think immediately that eighty percent of the seed is lost foolishly. The sower should have found the good soil first and then sown the seed on the good soil. Jesus teaches us something very different about the ways in which we transmit the message to others.
St. Paul, the great apostle of his time, says that we must preach the message in season and out of season. For him as for Jesus, the important thing was not how many would reject the message but the fact that some people would hear it, perhaps only a handful but they would produce fruit, “, some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty.”
For those of us who work for the spread of the Gospel, these are particularly difficult times. For people who see the value systems out of which we operate leading us to disaster, these are also difficult times. For others trying to get programmes off the ground without funding and no one not even the government or the private sector listens, be these sports programmes or academic or vocational training programmes, or programmes to help the poor, these are particularly trying times.
People don’t seem to be listening and don’t want to listen. Individuals set themselves up as arbiters of the truth. People no longer recognize objective truth. Parents so often speak to their children and warn them about the dangers of peer pressure etc. and then see their children doing the same thing that they have been warned about. Faced with these situations the temptation is to give up, to say it doesn’t make sense to continue trying “to spin tops in mud.”
The Gospel tells us that the important thing is not the time wasted, it is not the words that were wasted, the important thing is the twenty percent which found good soil in which to bear fruit and the generosity and perseverance of the sower who continues sowing when only twenty percent of the soil is good and this twenty percent is scattered among thorns and rocks and shallow soil.
The Gospel calls us to celebrate the sowers that we know. Those who continued sowing is spite of failure, in spite of rejection, in spite of the seeming waste of time. All of us know people like that. Some of our parents are like that, many teachers especially in inner city schools are like that. Institutions like Servol are like that. We know medical doctors who continue, in spite of ridicule, to preach that abstinence is the only true cure for HIV/AIDS, we know activists who continue to oppose capital punishment.
We thank God for them. It is because of these sowers that the twenty percent bears fruit, “some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty.” By their generosity and perseverance they ensure that the values of the Kingdom are kept alive in our world. They are in fact the successors of the saints who throughout the centuries have ensured that the twenty percent produce fruit. May God’s grace, wherever we find ourselves make us generous sowers who sow even in apparently difficult circumstances.
All powerful and ever-loving God it is your love which continues to bring your word to those p[laces and circumstances which we consider unlikely to accept the Gospel message and produce fruit. Help us to be persevering in our efforts to bring your word to all peoples, especially those who find themselves in difficult and unlikely circumstances. Give to our transmission of your word the efficacy which is necessary so that those who hear it may produce fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. We ask this through the intercession of Mary, our Mother and Jesus your Son. Amen