Do You Understand?

There is a symmetry in today’s Gospel around the seeds that bear fruit and those that do not. Jesus describes three conditions in which the seeds will not bear any fruit—along the path, in rocky places, and in thorny places.

For Sunday, July 16th, 2023

Reading

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.”

Matthew 13:1-23

Reflection

There is a symmetry in today’s Gospel around the seeds that bear fruit and those that do not. Jesus describes three conditions in which the seeds will not bear any fruit—along the path, in rocky places, and in thorny places. He also describes three levels of fruitfulness in the rich soil: “A hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

The meaning of “along the path” may be obscured to us. Living in cities with modern roads, many men seldom see natural paths. As these natural paths are frequently traversed, they acquire a stone-like rigidity. When the seeds fall along the path, they fall onto packed dirt, and they cannot penetrate the earth. When the word of God reaches the soul of a man like this path, his heart has already been hardened—he is pre-resigned not to accept the word of God. Rather than experiencing joy, these souls will be eaten up by the birds. Those who do not allow the word of God to take root will be devoured.

The seeds that fall on the rocky ground take root. The soul who hears the word of God is filled with unearthly joy. But when tribulations come, the initial joy the soul experienced quickly dies. The soul burns in the hot sun.

The last condition of failure is the seeds that fall among thorns where “worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” The soul in this condition is verdant and fertile. When the word of God comes to this soul, it takes root and springs forth. However, not only the word of God but also vices take root. Like weeds, these unholy anxieties and perversions choke the word of God, and it bears no fruit.

These three fruitless souls well depict our understanding of hell. For their hard-heartedness, they are trampled and devoured. For their weak faith and failure to seek to understand God‘s word, they are burnt. For their vices, they are choked by a bed of thorns.

St. John Chrysostom gives a comforting explanation of the rich soil. He says, “Take note that even the person yielding thirtyfold is saved. The Lord said that to make the way of salvation easy. What that means is this: Are you incapable of practicing virginity? Then live a chaste married life. Are you incapable of giving up all your goods? Then give some of what you own. Are you incapable of carrying that burden? Divide your possessions with Christ” (Matthew: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators, 264).

In your prayer this Sunday, reflect on Jesus’ explanation of this parable. How will you respond to the word of God?   Are you cultivating a life that leads you to understand his word? Ask the Lord to make your soul like the rich soil in the parable so that you can yield fruit a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

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