The Sower, Jean-François Millet c.1865, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
[Jesus said] “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up….” Matthew 13:3-4.
Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
It is hard to imagine that only 150 years ago, fields were being sowed with seed in the manner shown above. Of course, that is the way it had been done forever, but 1865 is hardly pre-industrial revolution, with agricultural machines among the first to be invented, but there it was, as Millet recorded it. The loss of seed must have been enormous, but it served Jesus’ purposes very well. The seed was God’s Word, and we, the receivers (or not) of the Word must place ourselves in one of the various situations Jesus describes: easy prey for those who snatch it away before anything can germinate within us, or where it does germinate but in such shallow minds and hearts that it stands little chance of bearing fruit, and so on. But, unlike the scene in the parable, we can do something about it if we realize our own failings. Take, for example, the life of St. Francis. He grew up in a Catholic household, but in his youth he was given over to having a good time, to charging off to battle, and generally not being a good soul. Or St. Augustine of Hippo who famously prayed to God to “Make me chaste, but not yet…” or again St. Ignatius of Loyola, he who founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, whose youth was consumed by the quest for fame and glory. Well, somehow they each overcame that, and God’s Word took root in them with a vengeance! So, in some way, the seed which landed in shallow ground for each of them somehow found rich soil in which they became God’s great champions. It almost seems like God’s Word is more than a seed, and can find its way, if necessary, to deeper, richer ground in which to take root. So what is Jesus’ point in his parable if all that can happen?
Let’s look at the basic structure of this parable, which is found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the “synoptic” gospels, called such because they have many parallels concerning the teachings of Jesus. First, the Sower. That is God, freely giving His Word, represented by the seeds, to all the earth in hope of they will take root. The hard pathway, with birds gobbling up the seeds, are people fully preoccupied with the demands of this world with no room for God, as if Satan grabs the seed even before there is any chance of growth. The rocky ground stands for those people who seem to receive God’s word willingly, but as soon as the first challenge comes along, they’re gone. The thorn bushes describe those people who are fully preoccupied with getting rich or famous or powerful, no matter what, interested only in themselves and what they must do for self-preferment. Then the good soil is the person who willingly receives God’s word, understands it and what its challenges and promises are, and gladly try to fulfill God’s will as a consequence.
So, the question occurs to me is, is that all? If I represent rocky ground, am I doomed? If I am interested only in getting as much for myself in this life, then is all, in fact, lost? To agree with that is to deny that we have free will; we are in charge of our own destiny, perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts to each and every human being, even those who have never heard of Jesus. In other words, to use a phrase from the Prodigal Son parable, can we “come to our senses” and recognize the pure, priceless value of accepting God’s word and changing our lives for the better? Clearly, if we believe in free will, the answer must be “yes”. The parable seems to demonstrate several life-situations which are ruinous to our health and happiness. If we believe we are children of God, which we became at our baptism, then we all have an obligation to behave as such. We all have talents, skills, gifts of God, which are the engine driving us through life. Putting them to full use, for the benefit of others as well as ourselves and hence obeying God’s will for us, would seem to be the road to genuine success and fulfillment. Take a look at this: Wanderlust Worker. That might be a positive first step if you feel that you fit into one of the negative situations in Jesus’ parable story today. This corona virus scourge might well be the catalyst for such self-reflection. What a remarkable thing it would be to emerge from our collective self-isolation, getting on for more than three months, as a newly-minted person, aware of what is needed to become an even better person, and hence an even more loyal child of God. What benefits would accrue, to ourselves, to those around us, to those we serve, and the delight it would cause in heaven itself!
Which Parable of the Sower category are you? Perhaps the Lefkoe Institute can help.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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