15th SUNDAY OF YEAR A
THE PARABLE OF THE SOILS
Is 55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Matt 13:1-23
On any given day, the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to millions of people. Some may hear the message in a church. Some hear it on the radio, television or the new means of social media. Some hear it in books and magazine articles. Some hear it from a friend (Whatsapp, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). They all hear the same message but they respond in different ways. Why is it so? Some hear and turn from sin, while others continue on indifferently. Jesus addresses this issue in his parable of the soils, recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. This parable is essentially about LISTENING. It teaches important lessons about how people respond to the gospel and what the difference is between true and false believers. Some of the parables of Jesus make one really wonder about the correct interpretation. This parable does not. Jesus explains this parable to his disciples and to us. Jesus explains this parable to his disciples and to us. (You may re-read the section where Jesus himself is giving the actual meaning of the parable –Mt. 13:18-23).
- ALL DEPENDS ON THE QUALITY OF THE SOIL
It is noteworthy that the sower was the same person; the seed was of the same quality. Therefore, the difference in yield did not depend on either of them. It rather depended on the quality of the soil or terrain. According to Jesus in our Gospel today, a similar situation obtains with the proclamation of the Word of God. The one proclaiming the Word is the same person: THE SON OF MAN, that is, Jesus himself. The Word being proclaimed is the same: it is the GOOD NEWS or THE GOSPEL. But the responses that it evokes from those who hear it are vastly different. That does not depend on Jesus, the proclaimer nor on the Good News that is proclaimed. It rather depends on the dispositions, THE ATTITUDES OF THE RECIPIENTS.
You must have noticed people giving out religious leaflets at some of our street corners in town or in public transport buses. Some passersby simply ignore them and walk on. Others take the stuff and throw in the nearest dustbin. A few, however, take the trouble to go over the contents and see what they are talking about. This fairly represents the different ways in which people respond to the proclamation of the Word of God.
- THE DIFFERENCT RESPONSES TO THE GOSPEL
Jesus lists four different kinds of response to the same message of the gospel. They correspond to the four types of soil.
- a) The Seed on the Road – The hardened hearer: There are some people who “hear” the gospel message but they have no response because their hearts are hard. Such people have concluded that the gospel is irrelevant; it does not work. They have trained themselves to tune God out. Surprisingly, you may even find these kind of people in church on a Sunday like this. They may
- Be attending Mass just to please a spouse (wife or husband)
- Be here because their parents require it
- Be involved in order to keep up appearances in the community
- Be calculating time, imagining that it will gain them “points” for Heaven (in case there is such a place).
Satan easily takes the seed sown in them and sweeps it away.
- b) The Seed on the rocky ground – The superficial Hearer. Unlike the first group, these are people who receive the gospel message with enthusiasm. But that enthusiasm is short-lived. When difficulty comes or when the novelty wears off, these people drift away. Their faith was superficial. Unfortunately, these people may be convinced that they are going to Heaven because they “got baptized”, “can recite prayers”, “appear in church sometimes”, “belong to a one church group or the other”, etc. These things do not save anyone. They deceive themselves.
- c) The Seed in the Thorns — The distracted Hearer. The third group of people are attracted to the gospel message but they never get around to getting serious. They are so distracted by other things that they never respond to the truth. These people have a divided heart. They receive the truth of God, but they welcome competing truths as well. Jesus tells us that these people eventually drift away because of the worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things. These people want to eat their cake and have it too. They want to pursue the things of the world and the things of God. But you cannot do both. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). Ordinarily, many a well-meaning Christian falls within this category. After a good sermon on Sunday, or after listening to a video or reading a very inspiring text on Whatsapp, we often, zealously pledge ourselves to “make a new beginning”, but where does it all end up…? What of our many New Year resolutions? You can name the rest.
- d) The Seed on the Fertile Soil — The responsive Hearer. The true believer is one that hears the truth and accepts it as truth. They interact with the truth of God and find it satisfying and good. They receive the message of salvation and apply it to their own life. These people recognize themselves as real sinners in need of the grace that can only come from Christ. They throw themselves on the mercy of God and vow to serve Him. The evidence of this kind of commitment is a transformed life. These people bear fruit. In other words, they are becoming holy. As St. Paul says: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:22), they are beginning to give evidence of Christ-like character by manifesting the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). They show their faith by their changed lives and their eagerness to honor God and share the gospel with others.
- “WHAT KIND OF SOIL AM I?”
The key question for us, today, is: “What kind of soil am I?” This parable should shake us up a little. It was designed to make us think. There were lots “Jesus fans” in those days. But only a few were his “disciples”. Many came after Jesus because of the bread they ate, the miracles they saw and the prestige they hoped to get from following Jesus. Are we any different today? What difference does it make in our lives being Catholic Christians? Has the word found a rich soil in us? Does our life reflect any ‘fruitfulness’ in terms of good Christian living? You may be able to debate the Gospel with the finest minds, but if you are not doing what Jesus tells us to do, you are not a true disciple. “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mtt 7:21).
- THE NEED TO RE-THINK OUR METHODS OF PASSING ON THE WORD OF GOD
Today, our churches are full superficial hearers. They prefer only churches with ‘BRIGHT SINGING,” and where preaching is emotional. People prefer churches that produce visible and “QUICK RESULTS” (Miracles). They are not bothered whether they change their ways of life. In these places of worship, sinners are urged to make a prompt “decision”. They are rushed to the “penitent form,” and then assured that all is well with them. Some are BAPTIZED or RE-BAPTIZED (as the case may be) after a lengthy preaching, spiced with loud singing. The poor gullible soul leaves with a false and fleeting “joy.” And the deplorable thing is that many “MEN OF GOD”, PASTORS and PRIESTS are supporting this Christ-dishonoring and soul-deceiving mockery of true Gospel ministry. In their desire to get “DECISIONS FOR CHRIST” people’s emotions are manipulated. The Christian message is watered down. The new converts are told that all they need is to ‘give their lives for Christ’, with no sense of Christian commitment. The appeal is all superficial. Here, the PROCLAIMER, the WORD and the SOIL are faulty! But Jesus asks his listeners for total surrender. He asks them to follow Him, to trust Him, to rely on Him. It is not a decision that can be made in moment of emotion. Deciding on such serious matters so instantaneously and superficially is like making a serious decision when you are angry, hungry, drunk, etc. We must focus less on decisions and more on discipleship.
- COUNTING THE COST OF DECIPLESHIP
Jesus told his potential followers that they must “count the cost”. He told them that they needed to think carefully about the commitment he was calling them to make. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23; Mk 8:34; Mtt 16:24) For lack of “counting the cost,” hundreds of professed converts, under religious revivals, go back to “the world” after a time, and bring disgrace on religion. They begin with a sadly mistaken notion of what true Christianity is. They fancy that it consists in nothing more than a so-called “coming to Christ,” “accepting Jesus as your personal saviour” and having strong inward feelings of joy and peace. Many enjoy relying on gimmicks and cheap tactics. They imagine that faith consists of repeatedly shouting “Amen!”, “Alleluia!”, “Praise the Lord!” etc. And so, when they find, after a time, that there is a cross to be carried, that the human heart is deceitful, and that there is a busy devil always near us, they cool down in disgust, and return to their old sins. And why? Because they had really never known true Christianity. They had received the GOOD SEE on BAD SOIL. They had never learned that we must “count the cost.”
- The conclusion is yours to make!