Desiring Rich Soil
by Rev. Jerome A Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
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 disciples approached him and said, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He said to them in reply, "Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; for anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.
"But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
"Hear then 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. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold."
versions of the Bible depict this week’s Gospel passage as the “Parable of the
Sower” or the “Parable of the Seed.” These titles focus the readers’ attention
upon Our Lord (the sower) or the seed (the Word of God). While this focus on
Our Lord and God’s Word is always appropriate, we also know that both God and
His Word are immutable, constant and true.
For the purposes of seeking ongoing conversion, it may be more appropriate to focus on the four types of soil that Our Lord describes in the parable. Perhaps the parable would be named, “The Parable of the Four Soils.”
The four types of soil described in the parable describe the different types of dispositions found in the souls of believers. The dispositions range from ignorance to inconstancy to worldliness to fervency. We should be mindful that practically every believer finds a combination of these dispositions in his soul. It is perhaps rarely the case that the believer can be described as having only one general disposition toward God. This inconsistency depends on the degree of actualization of the virtues in the believer’s soul, personal circumstances, the degree of personal conversion and the quality of one’s human and spiritual formation. In some areas of a believer’s life, the soil may be very rich and conversion is less necessary. In other areas, the soil may be very shallow and his faith very superficial. This aspect of his live has not yet been converted and needs to be given over to God with greater trust and personal detachment.
In describing the four soils, Our Lord identifies enemies of a rich harvest: ignorance; persecution resulting from the Word; worldly anxiety and the lure of riches. In order to combat these tendencies toward unfruitfulness, God provides us with the tools necessary to produce fruit so that we yield an abundant harvest of faith and good works. Soil that bears healthy fruit and retains its mineral content requires rain (grace), fertilizer (suffering) and tilling (discipline). Leaving a field of soil lie fallow never generates a crop. In the parable, God provides the seed of His Word and we are to be receptive participants in yielding a good harvest.
The disposition of receptivity is often difficult for believers to assimilate. Most people would rather not be receivers of God’s Word. Instead, they prefer to be self-determined and active agents or be “in control.” It should be noted, however, that receptivity does not mean passivity. In the parable of the four soils, receptivity is that disposition which allows God to be the primary acting agent actualizing the gifts and talents He has given us in order to best spend our time and effort working toward building up the kingdom. It means allowing God to be in control and to be directed by the graced movements of the Holy Spirit – not doing merely what we desire. In this way, the seed of the sower can bear the rich fruit that the sower seeks to plant because the soil has been cleared of obstacles that prevent growth, or a lack of depth has been remedied by a more generous portion of soil. We are to cooperate in the growth that God begins in us.
We do well to pray to be like the last type of soil described in the parable in every aspect of our lives, and to honestly admit that not every area of our lives is quite as rich. Our humble admission of the rocks, thorns and lack of depth that prevent us from reaching our true saintly potential is the first step toward cultivating a soul worthy of the sower’s seed.
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