Homily July 16th, 2023 

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Is 55:10-11, Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14, Rom 8:18-23, Mt 13:1-23

Today’s Gospel presents us with the well-known Parable of the Sower. It’s a parable that we find in the three synoptic Gospels, meaning, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in all three, there’s something really special and important about it. Although Jesus likes to speak in parables, and this is the first in a series of seven, Jesus actually takes the time to explain this parable, this one, in detail; Jesus Himself tells us what it means. This means that Jesus really wants us to learn something significant; He doesn’t want there to be any confusion about what we need to do.

If you remember, in Luke’s version of this parable, the meaning Jesus gives it is clear: He says directly, “The seed is the word of God” (8:11), and the different grounds are the different souls of believers. We have four different sorts of grounds, four different settings or souls, where the seed of the Word tries to settle in. We have the path, the rocky ground, the thorns, and the good soil. Let’s consider each of these, one by one, since if Jesus took the time to explain it, it means that each of us really needs to examine ourselves to see what sort of ground we have in our heart, and how we can change it to make it become good ground for the seed. We probably have a mix of these different grounds in our souls; probably in some areas, we’re more like a path, and in other, more like rocky ground; let’s consider each of these and see where our lives need some better ground, especially because many theologians say that each and every Christian has to pass through these four stages, these four types of soil, as we make our journey through life. It’s a sort of description of the spiritual life of every believer.

The first ground is the path, the little run-down trail that would’ve divided the fields. Jesus tells us 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,” “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.”

There are two important words here: understanding and steal. First, the word that Jesus uses for understand literally means to put things together with my mind, to make the necessary connections between ideas.[1] But it doesn’t stop there: that Greek word also implies putting what I know into act.It’s the sort of knowledge or understanding that has consequences in the way I live. If we think about it, this makes sense: if I really understand something, I have to act on it; if it’s important, I have to live it out. My thoughts become my actions.

So, what happens in a path-like soul? Jesus tells us that “The evil one comes and steals away” that seed, He steals it; the devil shows up like a bird, and snatches it away. That word for steals is really strong: it doesn’t mean shoplifting or stealing something on the sly. It means an open show of force, to flaunt your power in your enemy’s face by taking away something valuable.[2] Why is the devil so bold? Because he has the path-like soul completely under his control; it’s a soul that’s caught up in sin, so wrapped up in what it likes, that its understanding, its mind, is darkened. The seed of the Word is the same for all souls, but if we’re caught up in sin, if we’re bound to something sinful that we won’t give up, we make the devil’s life easy. He just shows up and takes away all the good things and the freedom that God wants to give us.

In our lives, then, we need to think about where it is that we refuse to let the Word of God sink in: where is it that I have some corner of a sin or a bad habit that I refuse to give up? Where is it that I need to put my soul in order, so that the Word of God can settle in? Oftentimes, in the spiritual life, this is the first stage of the journey, the first castle that Saint Teresa of Jesus talks about; we need to give up our serious sins and then move forward. Where is the path in my life?

The second sort of ground is the “rocky ground,” where it’s hard to put down roots. Jesus tells us that this “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.” This sort of rocky ground doesn’t mean that there are occasional rocks scattered throughout. The word Jesus uses refers to something fairly common in Palestine; there would be large beds of limestone under the fields, so that there would be a few inches of soil, and then nothing but pure, unyielding rock.[3] The seed sprouts, and in fact grows very quickly, but any sort of challenge that comes sucks away its life and the little plant dies.

Jesus mentions two things that really try the plant: tribulations and persecutions. Tribulations make reference more to internal pressures, things that come from inside, whereas persecutions are outside ones, external pressures.[4]

We’re a stage beyond the path soul here, because the seed on rocky ground receives God’s word, and receives it joyfully, because, as Jesus Christ Himself tells us, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin . . . [But] if [the] son frees you, then you will truly be free” (Jn 8:34, 36). The rocky soul experiences that joy of being free, of letting God’s word liberate it from the chains of slavery to sin . . . but something happens. That Word isn’t firmly rooted: the pressures come. That beautiful word Jesus uses for tribulation means something that makes me feel constricted inside, like I don’t have any options. That soul was so happy to be freed, but those old sins start calling again. It remembers those momentary joys, and how hard it was to give them up, and . . . the soul goes back to those sins. The change brought about by the Word of God wasn’t rooted; the conversion was only superficial. Especially as we struggle, this scene repeats itself time and time again in our lives.

Sometimes that freedom is lost because of external pressures. The Church has some difficult teachings, and if we don’t penetrate deeply, we can easily be overwhelmed in a world where the media, society, and even our friends and family tell us that we need to change our minds and our beliefs. But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” writes Saint Paul (Heb 13:8), and the one who is rooted in Him is rooted in the eternal truth that the Son of God came to bring us. I would point out, as did many church fathers, that Jesus Christ preaches this parable, not in the synagogue, but from a boat and, as we know, the boat is a symbol of the Church. Jesus Christ has entrusted the truth of the Gospel to His Church, and it’s our job to let it sink it, to study it, embrace it, and love it, because, as Saint Paul says in the letter to the Ephesians, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her” (5:25). Our love for the Church can’t be superficial, or just a Sunday thing; it has to affect my life.

We can ask ourselves, where is the rocky soil in my life? When it comes to those internal struggles, where do I keep falling into sin? Do I keep pushing forward, making the effort to become the saint God is calling me to be? Do I go to confession, and pick myself up and keep fighting? And when it comes to those external pressures: do I try to understand what the Church teaches and why? Do I love her, just as Christ loved her, to the point of giving up the things of this life for her? Where is the rocky soil in my life?

The third sort of ground is the one that also has weeds and thorns: “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.” A soul becomes this sort of ground when it really converts, when it really leaves behind sin and wants to follow God’s will. But to be holy, it’s not enough just to avoid the bad stuff; we have to do the good stuff. Notice that here, the seed doesn’t die; it grows, but it can’t produce fruit, because anxieties and the desire for riches “choke” it, or, more literally, “crowd it.” Many people live this way; they don’t commit big sins, they are faithful people, but they are caught up with worries and looking for material things, when they could really have freedom if only they turned to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ didn’t come just so we could get by, or survive; He tells us “I came so that [you] might have life and have it . . . abundantly” (Jn 10:10). “I came so that [you] might have life and have it . . . abundantly.” The person who is choked with worries and anxieties about material things has life; they live in grace, but they don’t have that abundant life. They need to recall Christ’s words to Martha: “The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing,” (Lk 10:41-2), and that is to seek God with all our hearts and souls. We can ask ourselves: what are the weeds that are choking our lives? Is it the seeking of something material, to always get the newest car, to move to a better house? What is it that takes up my thoughts, that concerns me at night, that motivates what I do? If it’s not love of Jesus Christ, then I’m letting the weeds get in the way.

Lastly, once we’ve moved the seed from the path, cleared away the rocks, and cut back the weeds, we have the fruitful soul: “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.” This soul puts everything into action. If we’ve really let the Word sink in, into our hearts, our lives, our jobs, then it should bear fruit in our lives. This fruit might be seen in the conversion of those around us, but it will certainly be seen within us. In the letter to the Galatians (5:22-23) Saint Paul tells us that these fruits are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” Do we see these fruits in our lives? If not, we have some gardening to do in our souls.

            Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Faith, let us ask for the grace to remove those things that prevent us from bearing fruit, and so love God with all our hearts.  

[1] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: “From sun and hiemi (to send); to put together, i.e. (mentally) to comprehend; by implication, to act piously — consider, understand, be wise.”

[2] HELPS Word-studies: harpázō – properly, seize by force; snatch up, suddenly and decisively – like someone seizing bounty (spoil, a prize); to take by an open display of force (i.e. not covertly or secretly).

[3] Cf. William Barclay’s commentary on this text.

[4] HELPS Word-studies: 2347 thlípsis – properly, pressure (what constricts or rubs together), used of a narrow place that “hems someone in”; tribulation, especially internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”).



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