He said, “Imagine a sower going out to sow”.
The air is electric with excitement and expectation. A great, jostling crowd has gathered. Everyone is agog to hear what Jesus will say, or perhaps to see some astonishing sign he will perform. Each new story about him has spread around like wildfire: his miracles of healing, his prophetic teaching, his power over demons and over nature, his repeated confrontations with the religious authorities. This crowd is a very mixed bag, like a net full of all different sorts of fish (13:47). Certainly by no means all are committed disciples; some are just curious; some are openly hostile. So Jesus gets into a boat, as they line the shore of the lake, and he speaks to them. But he doesn’t speak plainly. St. Matthew in his Gospel emphasises this point with insistence. In fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (cf. Is 6:9-10; Ps 77:2), Jesus uses only the obscure language of parable. That is: the words and images he uses here are simple, commonplace, familiar to everyone: everyone understands them all perfectly. But as for what he means by them: that he leaves for people to work out for themselves. Many conclude they have no idea what he is talking about, and go away disappointed.
That might seem very strange to us, yet it’s perfectly consistent with God’s usual way of acting, in all of salvation history, and in all of our lives. God sows. He pours out his goodness. He broadcasts seeds of life. He freely scatters everywhere the signs of his presence. He communicates himself. He does that all the time, and for the benefit of everyone. Even without revelation, in principle everyone should be able to read or interpret the created signs of God’s existence, of his goodness, of his call. But the trouble is: not everyone is ready to receive what God gives, what he does, what he says. Sometimes, it seems, almost no one is. Our minds are darkened by sin, and by ignorance. Also we experience evil in its various forms, and that can distort our gaze yet further. So we look, but do not see; we hear, but do not understand. The signs God gives are plainly visible, but we miss what they signify; and the good seed seems to fall in rocky ground, or among thorns, or in places where it will be devoured before it can take root.
So gradually in history God gave more signs. God revealed himself through Abraham and Moses and the Prophets, until finally he revealed himself supremely through his own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Everything that Jesus said, everything that he did, his whole life was a revelation of God, a window into the mystery of God; into the mystery of God’s Kingdom. In the light of Jesus, we have clear access to the meaning of the Universe, and of our own lives within it. Yet, both then and now, many look even at Jesus, and do not see. They hear him, and do not understand. If their minds and their hearts are closed, God will not force them open; he will never impose the gift and response of faith.
But happy are your eyes, says Jesus to his disciples, because they see, your ears, because they hear. What is it that the disciples see and hear, that other people do not? Not just the precise interpretation of this parable, surely, but the interpretation of all God’s words and works. Above all, those who have received the gift of faith accept and see and hear Jesus. There is no need for them to understand everything. But they trust, as little children trust their parents. And trusting Jesus, they are happy, blessed, indeed. In Jesus they know that God is their Father, as he is the Father of Jesus, and that he is love. In Jesus they know that God draws life out of death; that evil will be, has been overcome; and that sin can be, has been forgiven. In Jesus they know that life does have a meaning, does make sense, is going in a direction, and that direction is towards eternal blessedness, eternal life, joy and glory without end. In Jesus, too, those who have received the gift of faith are able to glimpse something of the mysteries of the Kingdom. They know, at least, that God’s Kingdom is possessed not so much by the rich as by the poor; not so much by those possessing all the advantages of life, as by those who suffer, or are persecuted, or who hunger and thirst for righteousness, or who mourn; not by the proud, but by the humble.
Jesus said, “Imagine a sower going out to sow”.
The image of the sower sowing his seed remains endlessly evocative for us, even though nowadays, unfortunately, with modern agriculture we never see it being done. Nevertheless: we who are Christians, who know the parable so well, who have heard it so many times, can somehow never hear it again without being stirred. Jesus tells his disciples that the seed is the word of the Kingdom; that is, his own word, his own witness, ultimately himself. We want to receive this word. Yet how well we know that we are not the perfect seed bed we should be! How easily we allow our hearts to become cluttered up by our attachments or worries or temptations, so that the hoped for fruits of holiness are not produced as they should be! Then also we reflect on how Jesus casts abroad his seed in us, in order that we might continue his work in the world. So the parable of the sower is also a clarion call to the Church, to all of us, to evangelise! Somehow we have to find ways to proclaim Jesus in our own times. Somehow we have to communicate to people our own conviction, itself a gift of the Holy Spirit: that God exists; that he is good; that he has come to us in Jesus Christ, in order to forgive our sins, and to draw us to himself; to give us eternal life.
One of the most effective ways we have of welcoming the seeds of the Kingdom is by coming to Mass. Here amid the assembly of the faithful we worship God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Here we hear his word in Holy Scripture; here we offer him the sacrifice of our salvation, and here we meet Jesus himself in the Blessed Sacrament. So today once again we beg the Lord to give us the grace we need truly to listen to him and to hear, truly to see him and understand, so that we can be converted by him, and healed.