Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor- Readings

Commentary on Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; Psalm 39; Mark 4:1-10, 13-20

The Gospel reading is the parable of the sower as told by Mark. We are told that Jesus began teaching beside the shore of the Lake of Galilee. So many people came to listen to him that he had to get into one of his disciple’s boats and preach from there. He sat down (the position of a teacher) while the people were on the shore. There is, of course, a symbolism in the boat which here, and in other parts of Mark, clearly represents the church. Even now we sometimes speak about the Church as the “Barque of Peter”.

Jesus then proceeds to tell a parable about a farmer who goes out to sow seed in his field. It is a typical and not very fertile Palestinian field. We need to realise also that in those days the farmer would scatter the seed all over the field and only then plough the field. That explains the situation as the parable unfolds. Some of the seed falls on a path which is probably a ‘short cut’ going across the field. Here the seed has no hope of taking root and is promptly picked up by birds. Some of the seed falls on crevices in some rocks. There may be little pools of water in crannies so the seed begins to take root. But then the sun comes up, it dries up the water and the new plants wither away. Some of the seed falls on briars and weeds on the unploughed field. It takes root but in time it is choked by the brambles and does not produce any grain. Lastly, some seed falls on fertile ground and produces fruit with various yields.

In every parable there is just one message. Here it is that God’s Word (the seed) is directed to every person without exception and, although it many cases it seems to fail, it will definitely succeed in producing the desired fruit.

The second part of the reading is a response to the disciples’ not getting the point of Jesus’ parable. In the explanation it looks more as if it is now being treated as an allegory. In a parable there is just one image, while in an allegory, each element is a symbol of something. So whereas in the parable the emphasis is just on the seed; in the explanation it is rather on the different kinds of soil in which the seed falls.

So the seed falling on stony ground is like those who hear the Word but immediately the Evil One moves in and snatches it away. It does not even get started.

The seed that falls on rocky ground is like those who hear the Word with great enthusiasm but, as soon as they face any difficulty, fall away. This must often have been the situation in the early Church when enthusiastic new converts dropped off at the first sign of persecution.

The seed that falls among the brambles is like those who accept the Word with joy, but very soon the temptations of the material world, ambition and the desire for money take over and stifle the Word. Most probably, there are very few of us who do not fall to some degree in this group.

Finally, the seed falls on rich, fertile soil where it is totally and unconditionally accepted. Then it produces fruit in abundance and is a source for the planting of seed elsewhere.

John Chrysostom (Chrysostom means “golden mouthed”) was a famous preacher of the Word. And while many hung on his every word, there were many who did not want to listen to him, especially those – both clerics and lay people – who did not like his condemnations of their materialistic and corrupt ways of living. He was twice driven into exile by fellow clerics and died in exile.

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