Saturday of Week 24 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 8:4-15

In yesterday’s reading, we saw that Jesus was going around preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, accompanied by his twelve chosen disciples and a number of women who supported the work. Jesus, we are told, is surrounded by people who have come from every nearby city. There is an intimation of universality, ‘catholicism’, about the message he is going to give.

We are given an example of some of the teaching that he was giving them. It takes the form of a parable, the well-known parable of the sower. As in Matthew’s version, the parable is told in two stages. The first is the parable itself. The emphasis is on the sower sowing. He scatters the seed all over – as Jesus is now doing with the people. Some of it falls on the path, some on rocks, some among brambles and some on good soil.

It describes a typical situation in Palestine at the time. The field was largely a public place, at least while it was fallow. So there were paths meandering across it where people took short cuts. The land was not very fertile so there were pieces of rock jutting out of the soil. In the fallow season, it was not looked after and wild plants like brambles grew up. Also, unlike other farming cultures, the sowing took place before the ploughing.

The central message is that, even though some of the seed that the sower plants will wither and die, there is some which will find fertile soil and flourish. So it is with the Word of God and the Word of Jesus. It is a message of confidence and hope for the future of the Kingdom. In the Gospel, it is Jesus’ disciples who are the fertile soil.

As he finished the parable Jesus called out to all, inviting them to hear. He did not mean that they just physically hear. They are meant to listen carefully, to assimilate fully and to implement effectively all that he says. He is the Sower, the seed is the Word, those spoken to are the soil.

Clear as it is, the disciples ask for an explanation of the parable. Jesus tells them that the inner secrets of the Kingdom are for them. Why this privilege? Because they are disciples, because they are followers, because they are ready to listen. The rest hear in parables and only in parables: seeing, they do not see; hearing, they do not understand. They do not really want to see or hear because, as the Gospel says elsewhere:

…they may indeed look but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven. (Mark 4:12)

In other words, if they were to see and understand, they would have to turn their lives around and they are not ready for that. The disciples are those who have done just that; they have left their boats, their nets and their families, their security and gone with Jesus. That is what seeing and hearing means.

Then follows the explanation which really carries the original parable further than its simple message. In fact, it becomes more like an allegory where each part has a meaning of its own rather than the one point that a parable normally makes. And, whereas in the parable the emphasis was on the sower, here the emphasis is very much on the soil which receives the seed. Each example is made to represent a particular way in which the message is received or not.

The seed that falls on the path is like those who hear the word but it is snatched away from them before they have even a chance to respond. The overwhelming pagan world around them was just too strong an attraction.

The seed that falls on the rock where there may be some moisture in the crevices is like those who hear the word with great enthusiasm and “joy” (a favourite Lucan term). But they are not able to put down any long-lasting roots and, at the first hint of opposition or temptation, they fall away. They represent the many early Christians who must have given up under the pressures of persecution.

The seed that falls among the brambles represents those who do hear and accept the word. But, gradually the pressure of the secular world and its values is too much. They try to live in both worlds at once, but are gradually choked up with concerns about money and material and social wants and the pursuit of pleasure. Eventually, the word dies in them. Many Christians today could identify with this group.

The seed that falls on good soil represents those who hear the word in all openness and accept it fully. The word takes root deep within them and overflows in all kinds of good works.

It is quite clear to which group we are called to belong. To which one, however, should I honestly identify with myself?

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