|Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro|
July 14, 2002
Fifteenth Sunday Ordinary Time 2002
Is 55: 10-11, Rom 8: 18-23, Mt 13: 1-23 Matthew 13:1-23
With this weekís Gospel we start a 3 week series in Chapter 13 in Matthewís Gospel. Matthewís gospel could be called the gospel of parables and chapter 13 with itís seven parables, the chapter of parables. My New American Bible footnote says that the word parable covers a wide range of literary forms such as axioms, proverbs, similitudes and allegories. Gospel parables are used to illustrate a comparison between a Gospel truth and events in everyday life of 1st century Palestine. Sometimes they make sense up until the end when an unexpected punch line closes off the story. And sometimes they donít make sense from the get go. A true parable is out to make one clear point yet gospel people often develop into allegorical stories with each detail representing a figurative meaning pointing to issues of faith. Basically gospel parables donít need to make sense. They are meant to make Faith. The hearer and reader are supposed to be challenged by the unexpected ending or the illogical story line to see a truth of faith that demands a wholly other way of thinking, often contrary to common sense and worldly logic.
MATTHEW 13:1-9 A HUNDRED OR SIXTY OR 30 FOLD: This weekís gospel begins with Jesus telling the crowd the parable of the farmer sowing seeds. This parable is found in all three of the synoptic gospels. First century Palestinian farmers did not plant row crops like corn and soybean farmers in Iowa. They did their planting by scattering seeds by hand onto their fields. The use of this image of a farmer underscores the down to earth rural peasant background of Jesusí roots. It also reminds me of my experience of being a pastor of small rural parishes and getting to know the ways of farmers. The last thing an Iowa farmer passes on to his children to do is planting the crops. Seeds are expensive and youíve got to plant them right the first time because itís very hard to make up for mistakes once the crop is in. Iím sure it was the same in Jesusí day and even though the parable speaks of seeds falling on poor soil in practice 1st century farmers allowed very little of the expensive hard to come by seeds to be wasted.
As the parable is told the first three types of soil are poor; soil of a path, rocky soil and soil taken over by thorns. Each of the poor soils are unsuitable to receive the seeds. The fourth soil was the good soil and Jesus said this soil produced an abundant crop of 30, 60 and 100 fold. The parable as told to the crowd is a classic textbook parable. The parable follows a pattern of a story of ordinary every day events in the life of a 1st century Palestinian farmer. There are no surprises until the last line, the punch line, when Jesus says that the seeds planted in the rich soil produced yields of 30, 60 and 100 fold! By 1st century standards this would have been an unbelievable yield. In a world where yields of 7 to 9 fold were considered abundant, a 100 fold yield was overwhelming! The truth of the faith that the parable reveals is that when Godís word is received and acted upon, it produces abundant results, beyond our wildest imaginations.
MATTHEW 13:10-17 TO THOSE WHO HAVE, MORE WILL BE GIVEN UNTIL THEY GROW RICH: TO THOSE WHO HAVE NOT EVEN WHAT THEY HAVE WILL BE TAKEN AWAY: In this section Jesus answers the disciples question of why he speaks to the crowds in parables and in his answer we learn something about how faith is passed on. Jesus tells his disciples that the mysteries of heaven are granted to them but not to the crowds. The crowds play a very specific role in the Gospel stories. They are often fickle, one week cheering Jesus on (Palm Sunday) and the next demanding his crucifixion (Good Friday). Jesus works with the crowds; teaching and feeding them, healing their sick, yet his message is always limited and blunt with the crowds. They just donít get it. The message Jesus offers is not a "group-think" experience. Only free and independent individuals can hear and receive Jesusí message. A crowd canít digest his message. That is why he says, "they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand".
Jesus says the situation with the crowds is the same as it was in the prophet Isaiahís day when he quotes Is. 6:9-10. This quote from Isaiah appears 3 other times in the New Testament (John 12:40, Acts 28:26-27 and Rm. 11:8). They all refer to the Jewish people of their day who refused to accept who Jesus was and his message. In Chapter 6 in Isaiah, the call of the prophet, Isaiah has a vision in which he receives his call from God to go and speak Godís words to Israel. In verses 6:9-10 God tells Isaiah beforehand that even though he was going to speak Godís words, the people will not accept them. Yet, Isaiah must speak them anyway.
Have you ever heard the saying if you canít change your mind, are you sure you have one? Crowds canít change their minds, only individuals can. A crowd by definition forms around a particular "group-think" mentality. Crowds can only follow. They must be led. They cannot think on their own. In Jesusí day, as it was in Isaiahís day, the Jewish people were locked into a way of seeing and living their faith that made it impossible for them to see and understand any thing new from God. Their once living, vibrant and authentic faith that demanded strong independent individuals whose hearts could be changed were now too narrow and inflexible to read the signs of the times, to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Most found it easier to stay a member of the crowd, to follow the prescribed official leadership than take the risk of being an individual and thinking for themselves. And because of this when they actually saw a sign from God in Jesus they could not see and when they actually heard a true message from God in Jesusí teachings they could not listen or understand.
Perhaps the most telling verse in this section is verse 13:12 when Jesus says, "the person who has, more will be given to them till they are rich and the person who has not, what little they have will be taken away". This one verse summarizes best the meaning of the parable. At first glance, it doesnít seem fair. On the surface it sounds like a rousing endorsement of capitalism where it takes money to make money, where the rich get richer and the poor are just plain out of luck. But then I had to remind myself that this isnít about the economies of the world; itís about the economy of the Kingdom. And like the different soils in the parable, the seeds that fell upon the rich soil produced an unbelievable yield while the 3 poor soils lost what seeds they had. This verse again supports the lesson of the parable that when Godís Word is received well and acted upon, it produces abundant results. In the last two verses of this section (13:16-17) Jesus tells his disciples how blessed they are to be receiving his word and message. He tells them that many a prophet and righteous person from ages past would have loved to have seen and heard what they were seeing and hearing. This corresponds with the three cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum who Jesus cursed in Mt. 11:20-24, comparing them to the O.T. cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom that were destroyed. Itís also another reminder that the Gospel message is not for crowds or cities; disciples and individuals can only receive it. NOTE: The Reign of God is a social unit: A community of believers, unlike other social units-social-economic-political-religious, that are defined by a particular "group-think" mythology, the Reign of God is made up of free independent believing people united in Spirit, Word and mission. The difference can be subtle yet very important. MATTHEW 13:18-23 FROM PARABLE TO ALLEGORY, JESUS EXPLAINS PARABLE: In the last segment of this weeks Gospel Jesus explains to his disciples the meaning of the parable of the sower. In the explaining Jesus takes the one message "punch line" parable and turns it into an allegorical parable. Each of the first three different soils take on figurative meanings and in doing so shifts the emphasis of the parable from the abundant yield "punch line" to the poor soil and why some people do not receive the word of God.
In Jesusí explanation, each of the first three soils represents reasons why people end up rejecting Godís word and the challenge of the Gospel. I find it remarkable how similar the three differing reasons are for rejecting Godís Word are applicable to our own times and setting, especially from the Gospel perspective of war and nonviolence.
THE PATH: Jesus says the seed that fell on the path represents those who are exposed to the word but simply cannot receive it. The ground is too hard to take in the seed. These are the people who are truly spiritually deaden, whose God given inclination towards the truth is so diminished that they would not recognize Godís Word if it hit them in the face. These are the "true believers" amongst us, who embraces a "group think" worldview unquestionably. It matters little which one. All that matters is that they know theirs is the correct one. Within this category youíll find most of the extreme ideologues, both on the left and the right of the political - religious spectrum. However most people who make up this category are people in the middle - who buy into the dominant "status-quo", often nationalist, mythology and worldview. They are the ones for whom being patriotic covers a multitude of sins, requires blind obedience and unquestioning loyalty. In Germany in the 1930s and 40s they made the best Nazis. When it comes to war and the use of violence for the cause they are totally loyal, true believers of their leaders, whether they be heads of states, Church leaders or terrorist bosses.
ROCKY SOIL: The seed that fell on rocky soil represents those who joyfully received Godís Word, not measuring the cost. As soon as the true nature of the commitment is felt, they give it up. When in following Godís Word they are asked to take a personal risk, they reconsider their position. Rationalization is their first line of defense against the word of God. They rocky soil represents the underside of the classic liberal position. These are the folks who can see the failures and shortcomings of the "status quo" and the lies behind the "group think" that supports it. Yet they still believe in the system, it just needs to be reformed. And whatever solutions they end up embracing - not much will be asked personally. Self-preservation, degrees of privilege and comfortable life styles with a felt sense of something to lose are the rocks in their soil competing with the seed of Godís Word. Their soil is too loose for the Word of God to take root. At the first sign of "tribulation or persecution" the seed is up rooted, Godís Word is lost. In times of war these folks will reluctantly fight along side the blind patriot as loyal citizens. They too were obedient Nazis.
AMONG THORNS: The seed that fell on the soil that was already supporting thorns represents the people who take in Godís Word but their worldly lifestyles and consumption patterns with all its anxieties prevent them from fully embracing Godís Word. The Word of God is meant to be an all consuming affair, a total commitment in which all other commitments are measured. The thorny soil folks are the people who place the concerns of God along side a list of other competing concerns. Itís often a short list of competing commitments: family, Church, community, job and nation. The God concerns are always somewhere on the list yet rarely top on the list. This makes for half way measures in GodÕs demands. Now the God concerns may rise to the top of the list when a personal need or tragedy makes itself known but once the acute need is over the God issues move back down the list of standing commitments. And when it comes to war and violence issues these folks line up with the blind patriots and reluctant liberals in support of the nation state. They too believe the lies behind the national mythologies and "group-think" worldview. They too made good Nazis.
MORE LIKE AN URBAN GARDEN: In keeping with the figurative image of soil being the spiritual ground in which the Word of God is planted. Most of us can find degrees of all four soils identified in the parable in our spiritual garden. The image that comes to my mind are the vacant lots the Des Moines Catholic Worker have taken over through the years and turned into urban gardens. Whenever we started a garden effort on a vacant lot in our neighborhood, all three categories of poor soil were present and very little of the fourth category Ð the rich good soil existed. We had to do a lot of work to get the trampled down, rock filled, weed infested soil in shape before our garden efforts ever produced a decent harvest. Sometimes it takes several years before the soils responded positively. If we keep working at it, inevitably a rich yield is produced - a yield measured beyond the produce and flowers planted to the overall sense of pride and well being in the neighborhood that came with turning a piece of ugly dead inner city land into a vibrant many colored garden.
I guess the same can be said for each of us in our spiritual lives. The hardened ground, the buried rocks and persistent weeds need to be constantly tilled, thrown out and up rooted to make room for Godís Word to take root in our lives, leaving it up to God to produce the promised abundant yield.