The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 55:10-11  +  Romans 8:18-23  +  Matthew 13:1-23

“And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.”

references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 546: Christ teaches through parables
CCC 1703-1709: capacity to know and correspond to the voice of God
CCC 2006-2011: God associates man in working of grace
CCC 1046-1047: creation part of the new universe
CCC 2707: the value of meditation

Humility is the foundation of the spiritual life.  Through the virtue of humility, the Lord God can dwell more fully within us.  Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition tell us that growth in the spiritual life proceeds according to three stages.  The first stage is called the “purgative way”, where purification takes place, and within which the virtue of humility is key.   Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel passage teaches us about this purgative way.

In the parable, “A sower went out to sow.”  Now either this sower is foolish, or he knows something that we don’t know.  If you were driving down a paved road and came up behind a farmer driving his tractor and drill, dropping seed for miles onto the asphalt, you’d be concerned.  Doesn’t he know that he’s wasting his time, energy and money, in addition to ruining his drill?

But the sower in Jesus’ parable acts in a similar way:  “… as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.”  Later in the same chapter of Matthew, Jesus explains “the parable of the sower.  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.”

This is the first of four illustrations that Jesus paints in today’s parable.  The first three illustrations are pictures of the sower laboring in vain, because of the path, rocky ground, and thorns.  Only the fourth illustration describes seed falling on rich soil, producing fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

Sowing on the path illustrates ignorance.  In other words, this fruitless endeavor describes what happens when we lack the understanding that the Word of God reveals.

By contrast, to grow in humility requires a two-fold knowledge:  that is, knowledge of God, and self-knowledge.

Knowledge of God is simple, because God is simple.  God is Love.  The Church recently, on Trinity Sunday, reflected on the mystery of the God who is divine Love.  This reflection, of course, is meant to be like that of a mirror, not only a reflection upon one whom we adore.  We reflect upon God as love because we, as His adopted children, are to be like Him, and so are meant to see ourselves in His reflection.  That leads us to our need for self-knowledge.

However, self-knowledge is more complicated than knowledge of God because it has two contrasting parts.  To be more specific, the fallen nature of man is divided, rather than being simple in the way that God created man “in the beginning”.

On the one hand is knowledge of oneself as a fallen person, as someone who has stumbled and fallen into the filth of one’s own actual sins.  This is in addition to inheriting Original Sin, which leaves its traces even upon the baptized person.

On the other hand, there is knowledge of oneself as someone loved by God.  One needs to know and reflect upon oneself as a person whom God has picked up out of sin, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, and raised to the dignity of His own child.

These three forms of knowledge, then—knowledge of God, knowledge of oneself as fallen, and knowledge of oneself as raised by God—are like three legs of a stool upon which one sits.  Without any one of these three legs, one inevitably falls.  But with all three, one can resemble the fourth illustration that Jesus verbally paints in Sunday’s Gospel Reading, where seed falls on rich soil and bears abundant life.

To put this in another way, we can listen to the first half of this Sunday’s Gospel Acclamation:  “The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower.”  This sentence speaks of seed and sower.  But we also have to consider the importance of the soil.  All three of these are inter-dependent:  seed, sower, and soil.

These three symbols of elements of the spiritual life represent the Word of God proclaimed, Christ the proclaimer, and the disciple who hears the proclamation and puts it into practice.  For the disciple to do this requires humility, because the fallen person is constantly tempted to live life by his own lights and his own strengths, instead of depending each day on the light and truth that come only from God.

OT 15-0A