The Prodigal Sower
In this beautiful homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly looks at parables in general and then he gives us some wonderful insights into the Parable of the Sower.
Readings for Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
- First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-11
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14
- Second Reading: Romans 8:18-23
- Gospel: Matthew 13:1-23 or 13:1-9
Today, we are introduced to parables, and I think you are all fairly familiar with parables. Parables are really a form of writing and preaching that the ancient rabbis in Israel used in order to explain the closeness and the goodness and what God was like.
And so it is that Jesus, being a rabbi and having that same kind of mission, he had come to preach the Kingdom of God was here and now, he turned to teaching them through parables.
A parable now is — and I think it needs a little bit of explanation because it’s really not familiar to our time — it’s close to riddling or giving examples and this, but it’s not the same.
Basically, a parable is an open-ended story. Open-ended stories leave you hanging and it means that you are supposed to, in a sense, close it. And you close it with your own understanding of each parable. So a parable is story, but it is a story without much conclusion, and it says to the listener, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And these parables are rather interesting, because, in a group like we have here, you can use a parable and ask people what they thought of it and you might get fifty different responses to it.
And what is the use of that? Well, for Jesus, it was very important.
First of all, when I was in Maryknoll, we had a rabbi and he was part of our scripture class, being an expert in the Old Testament, and when we got to parables, he said this: he said that most of the scholars feel that Jesus was the master teller of parables and that is why in the Gospels you will find page after page of parables.
Now, the other thing about parables is you do not explain them. And that’s why we didn’t read the second part of today’s Gospel, because Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower. Some, though, feel that Jesus was not explaining the parable, but it was his disciples, later on, in order to help people unfamiliar with parables, to give them a start about how you might approach listening to a parable and allowing it to reach down deeply into your heart.
Supposedly, a parable is going to be about the Kingdom of God. Now the Kingdom of God is more, as Matthew says, the Kingdom of Heaven, because he, being a Jew, refused to use the sacred name of God, even in Greek, so he used the word “heaven.”
But the Kingdom of God doesn’t mean a place. The Kingdom of God is God Himself. It is a place in the sense it is where He is and where He is adored and where He is loved and where He is cared for and where He is listened to.
In other words, the Kingdom of God means that the listener to the parable has to have faith. You have to put your faith into the words. And, of course, the one who is giving these words and telling us these stories is Jesus, the Son of God.
And so it is that Jesus tells the parable and the people listen to the parable, but afterwards he goes into the house. You notice the house always plays a role in the Gospel story, because when Jesus goes into the house it means he is with his disciples and he is preparing them for their ministry. And their ministry, of course, is his ministry. And, so, the first thing he does is gives them a way of approaching the Parable of the Sower.
Today, we have the Sower. Now we have just read to you what Jesus had read to the people.
The story is very simple. The sower prepares the field. He prepares the field to receive the seeds which are the word of God. The sower now sows the seed and here’s where it begins.
If you look carefully at the sower, he seems to have no negative emotion about what he is doing. What he does is he has this huge bag full of seeds and he’s flinging them all over the land that he had to prepare. And he’s going up and down and flinging it, like showering the whole field full of seeds. And he thinks nothing of it.
And when he does this and he fills the whole area with seeds, he also includes the thorn bushes, and he also includes the places where the people walk, and he also includes the areas where the seed will find rocky soil and will grow just a little bit and then suddenly it will disappear because it has no roots.
And so it is that the sower is sowing seed even though any good farmer would say, “You’re wasting your seed. You must plant carefully like we do.”
You know, I worked on a potato farm and we used to plant potatoes. And you had to put the potatoes in very carefully. You had to measure them and put them down in the row and no potatoes could be lost. And you had this kind of a feeling that if they weren’t put straight down the line properly, and all the rest of it, that something terrible was going to happen.
Now this is in great contrast to the way Jesus describes the sower, because the sower is taking all of the seeds and throwing them up in the air, all in every direction, and they are falling into places where they don’t belong, and all the rest of it.
And why do you think that is?
Because the sower is more than a sower. He’s not just sowing seeds. Everybody knows that later on what you do is you plough all these seeds under if you belonged to that era in Palestine. You threw the seeds on the ground and all around and then you ploughed it under and that’s how it was done in those days.
But it’s more than that. He’s kind of prodigal. He’s kind of like almost happy to be in the field flinging these seeds around. And if you’re very carefully when you read this — now remember, you’re supposed to get your own impression — and one of the impressions that comes out is it is prodigal.
He wants to seed. It doesn’t matter if they only last a day. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the wrong place. It doesn’t matter as long as those seeds hit the earth some place, or even the sidewalks or what have you.
Because the seed is the word of God and the first lesson we learn from this parable is everybody should be covered by the word of God. You just don’t pick up with Catholics or Protestants, or this or that, all the things we think would be appropriate for this farmer to be doing.
He is prodigal. No-one is outside — even those who are choked, choked by the cares of the world, even those that are trampled down and they seem like people who nobody loves or cares for.
It’s not a place for the best of the best if we want a nice, huge wonderful harvest, you see. It’s a place where God comes. And He comes everywhere in every kind of way.
Why? Because Jesus is the sower and the seed is the word of God and the word of God gives life.
And then also is included in this now is that every seed must die. And Jesus, the one who is throwing all these seeds down, has told, at another time, the Son of Man must also die, for the seed must die in order to give new life.
Well, now we have a whole different understanding. We begin to realise that you can take a parable, a simple little story, and you can begin to see that behind it is an introduction to the heart of God.
God has no biases. To God, each and every seed is precious in His eyes, and each and every seed does not have to be tenderly cared for but it has to feel that it belongs.
And so what the Sower says, the Parable of the Sower says that the field is the whole world and everybody in it, and Jesus is there sowing the word of God.
And what is the word of God?
“Come to me, all you who are needy and tired and weary, and I will refresh you. I have come to heal you, to save you, to make you once again proud of yourselves and feel that you are indeed the children of God and not the riff raff that ordinary people (inaudible).
So that’s the first thing.
The second thing though is, if you’re thinking this way now, you can argue one way or the other, if you’re thinking this way, there’s a very important understanding that you also …
Say you bring this home and you read the whole thing about the seeds etc and you’re sitting there all by yourself in the living room. And then, if you’re wise like the old Jewish scholars were wise, you would know that Jesus is sitting with you and that God is in the room.
And, suddenly, the field is not this vast place that is being filled with the seed of God just for the whole world, but another interpretation is that the field is your own heart. Your heart, that is what the field is. And Jesus invites you to come with him and to ready the field for the ordinary work of the field. And then you’re to join as he sows the seed.
And he sows it through you, even more than through himself. And you are to shower your own heart with the seed of God and recognise that it can change you and it can change the whole world, if you recognise that the seed is God Himself.
Nice story, eh? It’s more than that. It’s the meaning of why Jesus came. It’s the meaning and understanding of what role God plays in our world, the meaning and understanding that we have a central part which begins in our own hearts, for to go out and save the world is not necessarily a good thing, but to go out filled with God’s love and knowing that to just walk and be with the people that you meet is like a light.
Remember, Jesus says this: Do good when the good that you do you must do, because the people will see the wonderful lovely things you do. And what will they do? They will turn to God in heaven and praise Him.
This is what you can do with a couple of seeds in a very poor country and by a few words. And it can do all this and it can change the world.
And this is why we treasure these words that have been handed down by half-illiterate men two thousand years ago to poor people who somehow or other remember that, yes, the seed must die, but it is dying that creates new life, and in the new life the world is healed and saved.
I had something to read, but I forgot it.
Approach these parables on your knees and don’t be afraid of them. It’s not telling you what Matthew thinks or what someone else thinks. It means that you read them, each one, and say, “Yes, this is a mystery to be discovered, and I walk with Jesus into this mystery, and if I pray over it and if I listen to it again and again and I see different ways that it’s teaching me, it will give me a whole library of understanding.”
And Jesus said, “I have come to save the world.”
And he does it through parables.