Lectionary commentary: the fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary time


READINGS

A reading from the prophet Isaiah, 55:10-11

Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 65:10-14. R/. Luke 8:8

A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, 8:18- 23

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew, 13:1-23



Have you heard the one about David the King? About him and the wife of Uriah, the pair of them ancestors of Jesus of Nazareth, would you believe?

David was looking down from his little royal palace on the hill called Zion, in the little city called Jerusalem, and he saw this woman as naked as the day she was born bathing herself.We are told that she was “very beautiful”. Not that David was very particular but he fancied her, summoned her up the hill and into his bed.You’re right! Some weeks later she sent a note: “I’m pregnant”[1]

Now Joab, David’s hatchet man, was leading the army in a military campaign. He received a note from David to send him Uriah, the husband of the woman who recently warmed his bed. When he came, allegedly to report “how the war was going”, David in the kindness of his heart advised the weary soldier to go home for a few days before returning to the fray.Can you figure out why he showed such wonderful concern for the weary soldier?

But the soldier refused, telling the King that his mates were all in the field and it wasn’t right to have home comforts while they were doing the fighting. So David gave him a note to deliver to Joab telling his trusted fix-it man to put Uriah in the front line of the next attack.Uriah the Hittite was killed.

“What happened next?”, I hear you say.This:

When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.

II Samuel 11:26-27

When the Lord entered the story he had a word with Nathan, the Lord’s prophet (and senior advisor at the royal court) and generally speaking, a good egg. He came to David and told him a story:

There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveller to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

II Samuel 12:2-4

That story is a parable. If Elijah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel had been there they would have pointed the finger, shouted, and called down the wrath of God on David the King. Not Nathan. He knew his man. He brought David himself to realise what he had done:

Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.

II Samuel 12:5-6

Nathan said, “You’re the man”.

That’s what parables do. Little stories that seem utterly harmless suddenly jump up and bite you. They challenge your perceptions, shake you out of your opinions, shatter your prejudices and illusions, and, if you have ears to hear, transform you into the person God meant you to be.Jesus spent most of his time making up stories. Beware of them.

[What I cannot understand is that,

… the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and he became sick.

II Samuel 12:15

Though David fasted and prayed, the child died.]


A reading from the prophet Isaiah, 55:10-11

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

The word of the Lord.

What word comes out from the mouth of the Lord? What is its purpose? What is the thing that the Lord has sent it into the hearing of humanity?

We know that the Book of Isaiah is made up of at least three sections that begin with the prophet Isaiah who lived in the last half of the eighth century B.C. The second section emerges from the hand of an unknown prophet and poet who lived round about 540 B. C. The words of this writer cover chapters 40 to 55 of the Book of Isaiah.


Prophets

Prophets are not people who foretell the future. The prophets we meet in the Bible—and Jesus is the most famous of all the prophets—are not in the business of predicting what is going to happen.

The first thing a prophet does is to visit the past people have left behind them. The past was where God counselled how to live, the God who says that the Lord would be their God, always with them, loving and caring. But the past is the place of disobedience, of turning away from the Lord and creating a world of slavery, poverty, a world where the broken-hearted heard no good news of relief, where there was no liberty for captives, in short, making a land where the justice of the Lord is denied admittance.

The beginning of this prophet’s meditation centres on the return from exile in Babylon. He regards the exile as divine punishment visited upon Israel because its powerful people had ceased to live as God counselled in his covenant words spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Then the prophets turn to the present, their own time, and they point to a darkness that covers the earth, a thick darkness that envelopes the people. For the powers that be continue to oppress the poor, make a mockery of God, and who have no acquaintance with the sackcloth of repentance, nor a strong hand to break the yoke of poverty. The prophet of Second Isaiah (the part our today’s reading comes from) reminds the rich and powerful what sins should be on their confession list:

  • you do not share your bread with the hungry;
  • you do not bring the homeless poor into your house;
  • the naked you do not cover;
  • you do not loose the bonds of wickedness.

(see Isaiah 58:6-7)

But there can be a new future.What prophets do is to re-imagine the future. The future does not always have to be more of the same, beyond hope or the optimism of change. There will be a gospel. There will be herald of good news.As sure as God is God there will be a new future. That is what the prophets of Second Isaiah proclaim:

Behold your God!
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

Isaiah 40:10-11

What the afflicted must listen to are the words that promise change. What the rich and powerful need to heed is the judgement that waits those who batten on the poor of the world. The God that the powerful do not listen to is the one who,

brings princes to nothing,
and makes rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Isaiah 40:23

Comfort the people …

What the prophets whose words are recorded in Second Isaiah (chapters 40 to 55) promise is the comfort that only God can provide. The words that God speaks, listen to them.Hear the poetry of hope:

The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:8

What we hear in the words that fill the pages of Isaiah are these, words of promise and hope:

Fear not,
For I am with you,
Do not be dismayed,
For I am your God.

Isaiah 41:10

Fear not,
I am the one who helps you,
declares the Lord,
Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 41:13-14

There will come a servant of the Lord God, God’s chosen One, “in whom my soul delights”:

I have put my Spirit upon him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.

Isaiah 42:1

Consider and hope:

I have redeemed you
I am the Lord your God,
your Saviour.
Fear not! I am with you.
Everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made,
I will give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert.
To the people I formed for myself
I have blotted out your transgressions,
for I have redeemed you.
Turn to me and be saved,
All the ends of the earth!
For my name's sake
I defer my anger,
I restrain it that you may not be cut off.
I am the Lord your God,
Who teaches you for your good,
who leads you in the way you should go.

Sing for joy, O heavens,
Exult, O earth;
Break forth,
O mountains into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
And will have compassion on his afflicted.

(Sentences from Isaiah 45 to 50)

Thus we are brought to chapter 55, from which is taken today’s vision of the future:

Come everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, by wine and milk without money
and without price.


Isaiah 55:1

There is one path to this way of peace and plenty, the way of justice and right-living:

Listen diligently to me,
and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant …

Isaiah 55:2-3

Today’s reading is a promise. All that is said in Second Isaiah will come to pass in God’s good time. The word of promise sent into the world will be fulfilled.In Christian understanding the Word became Flesh. That Word has come as a realisation of the promise. The verb “to comfort”, used throughout Second Isaiah, means what it says but much more. It means “to be encouraged” and “to invite” to a new place. The words in Isaiah are a call to trust what God declares will come to pass, to see that call as an invitation to embrace the future, to have the trust and the courage to live now in God’s future.Isaiah invites us to learn from the past, to criticise the present, and to begin to create a new future, God’s future. As Jesus put it in Matthew’s Gospel,

You have heard that it was said to the people of old,
… but I say to you …

Matthew 5:21



Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 65:10-14. R/. Lk 8:8

R/.Some seeds fell on good soil and produced grain.

You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain. R/.

For so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges, softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth. R/.

You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow. R/.

The hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy. R/.

Psalm 65 is song of praise.It begins with an invitation to silence.As poets often declare, in the presence of that which inspires awe, the loudest praise is silence. When that which is beyond words is spoken, the rest is silence.

But, of course, as usual the poet who demands silence goes on to explain why. The earth is cared for by God’s diligence and plentiful water ensures a harvest of plenty of grain.

Every attention is lavished so that, year after year, the meadows are blessed with luxuriance, and even the trodden paths drip with growth.Not only do the hills provide plenty for the flocks. The valleys below are mantled with grain and are filled with shouts of joy.



A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, 8:18- 23

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits and daughters of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

The word of the Lord.

In the first seven chapters of St. Paul’s Letter to Christian communities scattered in and around the capital city of the mighty empire of Rome he explained how we are where we are. As children of the man who invited SIN and DEATH into the world, men and women needed a power more strong than that of those two enemies in order to open the gates of imprisonment. Freedom came from the Son: “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).The divine paradox is that in the death of that Son “God’s love has been poured into our hearts” (Romans 5:5).Not only that. The Holy Spirit, “who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5) ensures that this new life is protected:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of SIN and DEATH.

Romans 8:2.

Indeed, the Holy Spirit stands guard within us, warding off any vestiges of SIN that seek entrance:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11

Unfortunately, our Lectionary omits four verses that sit after last weeks reading from Paul and before this week’s excerpt. But they are of the greatest importance because they as near plain speaking as we find in the writings of the great apostle:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Romans 8:15

To express it in the words of Matthew, through the protective shield of the Holy Spirit, the Father of Jesus becomes our Father. The Spirit signs the adoption papers and keeps them under lock and key:

That same Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

Romans 8:16

Now if we are children of God, as true as the Son is of God, then we are likewise heirs:

… and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:17

Even though we will have to endure whatever life throws at us, we suffer with our Lord Jesus and with him we will enter into the glory that saw him safely home.

In today’s reading Paul takes off on one of his glorious flights of faith.It is not only that God has in his Son reached out to call humanity back to the safety of God’s love.It is not that SIN and DEATH have been robbed of their sting.What has been done by God is to set in motion a process of salvation that will reach the whole of creation.It is not only that men and women have been re-adopted to be God’s sons and daughters. It is that the whole of creation is set to come to the glory of God.

To be sure, the state of the world, under human care, has suffered and continues to suffer.But in Paul’s view the whole of creation has been groaning under the consequences of SIN. The ravages of human stewardship must end and Paul insists that there is a global, cosmic dimension of salvation. The whole of creation will be transformed by the healing rule of God.

Of course, Paul had no idea of the nature or extent of planet Earth. He knew nothing about the immensity of creation - and we do not know much either. What he did know was that the heart of God had enough love to heal the pain of the whole of creation.



A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew, 13:1-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Behold! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart and turn,
and I would heal them.

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

The Gospel of the Lord.

[Note: the Lectionary allows for a shorter form of today’s Gospel to be read.Present circumstances make that an attractive option. But the parables of Jesus and the explanatory commentary (that comes from the hand of St. Matthew) belong together. I suggest that the priest or deacon or whoever read the parable itself (13:2-9). Then another voice might read from 13:10 to 13:17, using another voice to read the quotation from Isaiah(13:12-15). A variety of voices (male and female) is essential if readings are to be heard with some understanding. The explanation of the parable (13:18-23) can then be read yet another voice. Certainly the drama of the piece will suffer if one person opts to read all of the text.Lay people are permitted to read the Gospel on God Friday and some other days.So there is no principle that demands that only a priest or deacon may read the Gospel at Mass.]

Matthew’s Parables

Surely that heading should be Parables of Jesus? To be sure, Jesus spoke in parables.Indeed Matthew makes a comment on the preaching practice of Jesus:

All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:

I will open my mouth in parables;
I will utter what has been hidden
since the foundation of the world.

Matthew 13:34-35

Matthew says that Jesus spoke in parables to the crowds and for the eighth time he quotes from the Hebrew Bible the lines of Psalm 78:2. For Matthew, everything in the Bible of his people is prophetical, that is, in his understanding every word comes from the mouth of God.It is quite clear that Matthew does not always and on every occasion speak in parables. What Matthew seems to mean is that everything that Jesus did and said was a parable.Everything Jesus said and did, everything that happened to him, from birth to death and beyond, revealed to those with ears to hear what God was giving the world in Jesus. There is, too, Matthew’s insistence that Jesus had much to say to his disciples in private, often clarifications of what was said in public:

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field”.

Matthew 13:36 [2]

Our difficulty in understanding these contradictory statements springs from the very nature of our Gospels. First, they are written texts presenting historical events, not for the sake of history, but in order to nurture the faith of a group of little Christian communities in a particular place and time, with their own concerns, not ours. Matthew has seven parables in this part of his Gospel. Carefully he orchestrates his material throughout the whole of his Gospel to speak to his communities in Antioch of Syria, not to the audiences addressed by Jesus. Our difficulties are complicated. We have to try to find out what Jesus meant. We have to try to find out what Matthew meant to convey to his communities. Then we have to try to work out what Matthew might mean in our time and our place. We are reminded of our difficulties at every Mass. The reader makes an announcement:

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew.

At the end of the reading, the reader then declares,

The Gospel of the Lord.

So how do we get from Matthew to God? How to we turn the words of someone who wrote long ago and far away into gospel for us, good news for us coming from God in our time and place, a word of strength to match our hopes and overcome our fears?


Understanding parables

Two matters need to be understood about the parables of Jesus. First, there is the business of teaching in parables. What is special about that? The answer is that parables are not just amusing or clever stories. They are stories that demand reflection. Usually they demand a response. For example, the parable of the Good Samaritan and his charitable action demand a response.What must I do? Pass on the other side? Or in every way possible help the man who has fallen among thieves? Take the famous parable of the so-called Prodigal son. Which son better understands the heart of their father? Decisions! Decisions!

Most parables are challenges to where we are and invite us or challenge us to be where God is.Parables challenge the comfort of our routine thoughtlessness and upset our complacencies. A parable of Jesus does not stop its intrusion into our lives when we have grasped what it means. Its intrusive purpose is to ask, “What does it mean for us/for me?” And the for us always comes before the for me.


Structural features

The structure of the material in the Sunday Gospels of today and the next two Sundays, covering almost the whole of chapter 13, is complicated. The material is carefully edited. This is how it is set out:

The Setting:In a boat on the sea (lake).

  1. The Parable of the Sower of seeds. [Explanation of the purpose of all parables given to disciples.]
  2. The Parable of the Sower explained.
  3. The Parable of the Weeds.
  4. The Parables of Mustard seed and of Leaven.

Explanation of Prophecy and Parables.

A New Setting:In the house.

[An Explanation of the Parable of the Weeds given to disciples.]

  1. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure.
  2. The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.
  3. The Parable of the Net.

Conclusion:Understanding the Treasure just revealed.

Of course we cannot carry all this in our heads but Matthew’s plan reveals that he is editing the parables of Jesus. A few points we can keep in mind. First, he has gathered these parables together and organised them.Secondly, he has supplied explanations of the parables that come from this pen and not the preaching of Jesus. Thirdly, and of the greatest importance, he switches the venue from beside the sea to the house and he moved between preaching to great crowds and giving helpful explanations to the disciples.


Today: Matthew 13:1-23

We have today part of a long chapter with a detailed setting, two parables with additional material explaining the purpose of parables, and an explanation of the Parable of the Sower.

If you recall how carefully Matthew presented the setting of the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 5:1), you will appreciate the care he takes in describing the settings we are given in this account of these parables.


The First Setting

There is some evidence that Jesus set up headquarters in Capernaum, the fishing township on the northeastern corner of Lake Kinnereth, known in the Gospels as the Sea of Galilee (it is a freshwater lake). Peter’s house was in the town and some believe that was the house that Jesus used when in Capernaum.

The detail is interesting. There are five long blocks of teaching in Matthew’s Gospel, of which this is the third.[3] It is important to note to whom each block of teaching is directed.The crowds represent for Matthew a vast potential. The disciples of Jesus represent for Matthew the people who make up the communities of Christians in Damascus for whom he wrote his Gospel. What Jesus teaches the disciples in the Gospel is what needs to be learned by new Christians who must become proclaimers of Jesus. What is taught to the disciples in the Gospel must form the catechesis of those who form Matthew’s communities. What is demanded of the disciples in the Gospel is demanded of Christians. Similarly, what is demanded of and promised to the Twelve in the Gospel of Matthew marks the purpose and duties of the Church.

Notice: Twice we are told that Jesus was seated, the usual position a rabbi of the time adopted. He is in the boat, often an image of the Church in Matthew. The crowd standing on the shore are, hopefully, to be churched into the company of Jesus.

The settings, therefore, are of signal importance and we must always ask not only what was said, how it was said (in parables or otherwise) but to whom it was said. All of these are carefully stage-managed in Matthew’s Gospel.


The Parable of the Sower

If we jump ahead a little and get into the house that Jesus entered, followed by his disciples, we read this:

The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.

Matthew 13:37

Matthew’s version of the parable suggests Jesus is the Sower of Seed, the one who sows the word of God in the world. Jesus is a model for all disciples who must do in their day what Jesus did in his. This is how tradition saw the Matthew’s presentation of the story. The last sentence in Matthew’s Gospel records that Jesus promises to be present with his disciples. As they sow the seed of God’s good news Jesus is present and active with them. The ground of the world will not always be receptive but the seed will be scattered and the seed will prosper.

The fate of the seed mirrors Matthew’s understanding of the fate of Jesus himself.The Son of Man is the seed and the Son of Man will be done to death. But those who have received the Son of Man will receive all that the death of Jesus promises.


The purpose of Parables

Before Jesus the Sower explains the story of the sower who went out to sow, the disciples suddenly enter the story and ask why Jesus speaks in parables. The disciples enter the story and the boat, the lectern Jesus had occupied, is forgotten, as are the large crowds standing on the shore. These details may seem to be of no account.But Matthew frequently distinguished between disciples and crowds. This has to do with how the earliest of Christian communities understood their mission to proclaim Jesus to the world. Those who listened to Matthew’s Gospel are hearing what defines them as Christians. They are baptised not only into the joy of God’s salvation. By that very fact they are ordained to proclaim the gospel of God to the nations. So if Matthew’s Christians are to use the parables of Jesus, they must know why Jesus told stories and what he meant by the telling.

The disciples are told that they have been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven but to them it has not been given”.A strange sentence, to be sure.

First, the parables, Jesus implies, contain the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens (a very literal in translation). The word “mystery” has a particular meaning in the Bible.It does not mean some dark secret.Quite the opposite, in fact. It refers to God revealing his purposes in embracing humanity. The greatest mystery of all is the revelation of God’s steadfast. To put it bluntly, the mystery is why does God bother. God’s ultimate intention is to bring humanity into his dominion of love, a kingdom of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, about all, a kingdom of God’s justice and God’s peace.[4] What all who are anointed to proclaim the gospel of God must understand it that the mystery of God is God.

Matthew‘s Gospel was written for tiny groups of Jesus people who lived in two worlds. The world of the Roman Empire was a pagan world, a world of a thousand gods, the good, the bad, and the ugly, all of them capricious, regarding human beings as their playthings. A tiny part of the population of Antioch in Syria was Jewish, a people who sought to live their faith in as much isolation as they could manage while having to make a living. A small part of that Jewish population had aligned themselves to the kind of Jewish faith proclaimed by an eccentric prophet from a place no one had ever heard of somewhere in the hills of Galilee. Even his own family had disowned him. But these Jesus-Jews were landed with a God-given vocation: to proclaim the message of this maverick Jew to the whole world. But on what terms were pagans to be admitted to the community of Jesus the Jew? That is what Matthew was trying to explain throughout his long Gospel. But proclaiming the gospel of God in the confusions of Antioch was as fraught with difficulties as it always was for Jews living in a world where they were constantly mocked, derided, and persecuted. So parables reveal and conceal, enlighten and puzzle. It was ever thus. Even the great prophet Isaiah was aware of the contradiction that what God reveals, humanity conceals.[5] He was complaining of the hardness of heart in his own people’s failure to live up to God’s covenant. Matthew found the same hardness to in the worlds his readers and hearers encountered on the street of Antioch, in the synagogues, and in the pagan temples on every street corner. Good seed in sown by a Good Sower. But there are demons, rocks, tribulations, persecutions, thorns, and the deceit of riches, all of which choke at birth the possibility of understanding.

But in the world of hardness of heart, of deafness and blindness, there are those who are blessed with clarity of vision and graced with keen hearing, with the insight of prophets and the wisdom of the righteous.


The Sower explained

Actually those who sit in the pews live the world of the parables every day. It is all around us when we walk down the steps of our churches into our world. It is our world, a world not only in which we live but a world in whose sin we participate. It is a world of the rocky ground of greed, the paths of which are well trodden by liars and charlatans, a world of needless hunger, a world not safe for children, a world of homeless exiles, addicts and unemployed, a world where women are abused, a world where the colour of your skin blinds the glory within, and a world where the noise of wars enrich those who make bullets rather than peace.

And yet! And yet! In the middle of the mess of the world, there are voices of hope. There are ears that hear the pain, eyes that see the hurt, and hearts that are filled with healing love.Such are the seeds that grow in whatever good ground may be found. The pity is, as the poet said, God’s good ground in no more than a little acre.


Dr. Joseph O’Hanlon.



[1] The sordid story is told in I Samuel, chapters 11 and 12.

[2] This sentence occurs in next Sunday’s Gospel reading..We willreturn to this matter next Sunday.

[3] They are chapters 5-7; chapter 10; chapter 13; chapters 23-25.

[4] I will explore the meaning of the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” next week.

[5] The quotation in today’s Gospel is something of a mishmash ofIsaiah 6:9-10.


Corpus Christi Sunday --- the sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary time