Matthew 13: 1-23
At first glance there seems to be some conflict between the reading from Isaiah the prophet and the gospel story of the sower and the seed. In Isaiah we hear how the word of God never goes forth without effect, and that as inevitably as rain soaks the earth and makes it fruitful does the word of God penetrate and transform our world. When Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed however it appears that the situation has changed; much of the “word of the Kingdom” which he preaches is said to fall upon infertile ground.
Certainly people in the era of Isaiah, centuries before Christ, were not superior to those who lived at the time of Jesus’ life and ministry, always being perfectly disposed to the word of God? No, the pages of scripture themselves tell us that there must be some other explanation, and we find it in the Catholic understanding of divine revelation.
As Christians we believe fully in the revelation found in the books of the Old Testament—indeed we soak in the wisdom of these words every Sunday at mass. At the same time we find the message which the Lord intends for his people has been delivered in a gradual manner, in a way that we and our ancient Israelite forbears would be able to accept and allow it to permeate our lives and existence. During the time of the prophets and the sages of the Old Testament the word of the Lord indeed called for a prompt and faithful response but it also allowed for the possibility that people would not yet fully comprehend God’s plan for the salvation of all the nations or to see its implications.
But when the time of God’s definitive revelation in the person of Jesus Christ took place, the fullness of the message being made manifest meant that those who heard the word of revelation now held the full responsibility of keeping the word they heard, no longer living in expectation but in the joyful (and at times painfully honest) light of Christ.
In Jesus Christ the revelation of God reached its completion; this is why the Church expects “no new public revelation…before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 66). Therefore when he preaches the word as in today parable, it is the fullness of God’s self-communication to his people, something which makes known to us the majesty of the Kingdom of Heaven, and which at the same time requires of us a definitive decision to accept or reject it.
Whereas previously God spoke “in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1) and thus his word stood on its own, in the time of Christ the word requires a complete and unstinting response—and this is where the thorns, the rocky ground, and the shallow soil can parch or choke off our spiritual growth.
Now that the fullness of God’s word has been made known there can be no more waiting on our part: when we hear about the Kingdom we must either welcome it or, tragically, turn away from it. The seed of the living Word of God has indeed been sown in our midst by Christ and by generations of Christian believers and preachers since his time. His parable today is a reminder that since the fullness of revelation and redemption has arrived in our midst each disciple of Christ has an obligation to respond to that word of revelation and to share in the redemption that follows. May our response to the seed of the word bring it to fruition in our own lives and in the lives of each person whom we encounter on our journey of faith.
Fr. Edward Mazich, O.S.B.