Are we able to perceive the hidden Truth?

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Romans 8:18-23

Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Matthew 13:1-9

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear."

The parable of the sower in this Sunday’s Gospel reading can be read on two levels. The first level is in the context of Jesus’ earthly ministry — His encounter with the people to whom He preaches. The parable could also be the reflection of the experiences and situations of Matthew’s early Christian community. In both circumstances, it explains why Jesus’ words elicit a mixed reception from the crowd: the evil one is at work; people’s hearts are too shallow; others are preoccupied with worldly concerns but some, who “hear the word and understand it”, bear and yield fruits (Mt 13:23). The second level is allegorical. It invites us to look beyond the words in the text to a hidden message that it means to convey.

The allegory of the sower parable begins with the sower’s method of sowing. In reality, this “broadcast” method of planting seeds seems rather wasteful. It is imprudent if not foolish to scatter seeds on unsuitable ground. But if God is the sower and the seed is His word, then as Isaiah says in the First Reading, “For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows . . .”, so too, is the work of God. Even when the method is apparently not very efficient and the sower may suffer frustrations in many ways, it will “[achieve] the end for which [God] sent it” (Is 55:10-11). And just like the rain and snow water the earth no matter on what kind of ground they fall, God’s gift of salvation is freely extended to all people and to all nations. His generosity is impartial, gratuitous and disproportionate! When hearts are open to God’s word, God’s grace is superabundant. Not only does God’s grace make one’s heart fruitful but also make up for all the lost seeds which do not produce anything

Then the focus of interest is shifted to the harvest. The bounteousness of the harvest does not depend on the method of planting but is determined by the nature of the soil/ground. The four different types of soil/ground reflect the dispositions or attitudes of those who receive God’s word, evidently yielding different results. While in nature, these soils/grounds are already predetermined in their suitability for farming; in the case of human hearts, there is free will and hence, one has the freedom of choice to accept or reject the gift of salvation. Even among those who accept, their yield is different, “some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold” (Mt 13:8-9). In our spiritual journey, like seeds, we often fall into different soils. At times, we may give up our effort before they germinate; or we may be too superficial in our spiritual progress; and at other times, we may be dwindled by anxieties, distractions and the lure of worldly cares. But sometimes, and somehow, when we fall on rich and fertile soil, free of pecking birds, stones and weeds, we should persevere and give thanks to the Lord, for whatever fruits we may bear, it is “only God who causes the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7).

The final allegorical element is related to the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 13:11). The word “mystery” is used in the Book of Daniel (rf Dn 2:18-19, 27-30) and also in the Gospels of Luke and Mark (rf Lk 8:10, Mk 4:11). In each instance, it implies a divine decree which will affect the course of human history, but can only be known when revealed. In the case of Daniel, it is the knowledge to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream; in the case of Jesus’ disciples, it is the recognition of the actual realization of God’s plan made present in the person of Jesus. Jesus’ double answer to the disciples’ question about the purpose of the parable reveals the secrets of divine revelation. He distinguishes the grace given between the disciples and the crowd. His use of the parable is not to punish the crowd. It is their hardness of heart, their deliberate resistance and continuous indifference that prevent God’s grace from reaching them. In contrast, the disciples witness with faith the present reality of the mystery in the events of Jesus’ earthly life.

Many centuries of believers before Christ awaited the coming of the Messiah but did not see it. Many longed to hear the words of God, not from prophets but spoken by God Himself and never heard it. We Christians of the latter days are able to share the blessedness of the disciples, not in the sense of seeing Jesus physically or hearing Him actually speaking, but the faith of the disciples which now we have in Jesus as the Son of God and our Saviour. By opening our hearts, we perceive the hidden Truth; through Scriptures and Sacraments, we continue to encounter the real Jesus and in living out His words in our lives, we experience the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

Posted: July 12, 2020

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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