Over the next couple of weeks, we will hear several parables from Matthew’s Gospel. In them, Jesus will be explaining what the “kingdom of heaven” is like. That’s what parables do: they compare the heavenly reality to something easily accessible to the people. However, today, as the thirteenth chapter of Matthew opens, Jesus begins with a parable that is not exactly about the “kingdom of heaven.” It is a parable that is meant to prepare them for the others, though.
Rather than beginning, as He will, with “The kingdom of heaven is like…” Jesus simply begins His story: “A sower went out to sow.” So … what is this parable about? In the longer version that we did not hear today, Jesus actually explains the entire thing: 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.”
The seed is that Word of God that Jesus proclaims, and He is the Sower. Therefore, this is a parable about hearing, listening, and producing. The sower is not so much interested in the simple act of sowing; if He were, then he would have been much more careful and deliberate about where He tossed those seeds. Rather, the Sower is interested in the harvest – the fruits of His work and the readiness of the soil.
Brothers and sisters, this is a parable about evangelization. Jesus is talking today about what we are called to do with that Word that is given to us. Each one of us is responsible for our own parcel of soil: rocky, thorny, or richly tilled, it doesn’t matter. We all receive that Word. It is up to us to prepare for that Word and cultivate it in our hearts – not only to receive it well ourselves, but also to produce a rich harvest that can be shared with others.
We must take our cue from the Gospel. Evangelization is not simply about the proclamation of the Word. If it were, then we could be content with just sowing and forgetting about the soil. Rather, evangelization in its fullest sense (in the Christian sense, as Jesus did it) is about the encounter with Jesus Christ. He is the Word. The point of this parable is not the spreading of seed far and wide. No. It is about the encounter of seed and soil – of the Word and the hearts of the hearers. It is about you and me.
In our lives there are folks who can identify with all of these sorts of ground that Jesus describes. There are those who have no frame of reference for the Gospel, who do not know any sense of spirituality or openness to God. These need to be opened to the possibility of that real encounter. There are those who are open but are more tied to the needs of this world, looking for meaning in what the world has to sell and offer. These need to see the life-changing love of Jesus shown through His people. There are those who have the best intentions but find themselves dragged down by hardships and trials and disappointments. These need to see the healing power of Jesus active in the lives of those who truly know Him.
Finally, there are those who allow that seed to take deep roots. These are the ones, as Jesus says, who bear fruit and yield a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. We can be that soil – we probably have been all types at one point or another. However, today, we are invited again to hear that Word and to allow it to find a home again in our hearts. When we do that, we become agents for the Sower – a Sower who is looking for that fruit. Jesus does not discount the possibility of any soil – compacted, rocky, thorny or rich. He shares Himself abundantly, as He does in the Eucharist.
Therefore, with heart tilled and ready, we are called to open our ears and hear; and in hearing, we are called to produce. The Encounter is the most important thing. Jesus is looking at that parcel of soil that you and I have been given; so should we. And in joyfully receiving that Word, we can then share the produce with others.