15th Sunday in Ordinary Time | Year A
Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeside, but such crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there. The people all stood on the beach, and he told them many things in parables.
He said, ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up straight away, because there was no depth of earth; but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and not having any roots, they withered away. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Listen, anyone who has ears!’
Then the disciples went up to him and asked, ‘Why do you talk to them in parables?’ ‘Because’ he replied ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of are revealed to you, but they are not revealed to them. For anyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. The reason I talk to them in parables is that they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding. So in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled:
You will listen and listen again, but not understand,
see and see again, but not perceive.
For the heart of this nation has grown coarse,
their ears dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes,
for fear they should see with their eyes,
fear with their ears,
understand with their heart,
and be converted
and be healed by me.
‘But happy are you eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.
‘You, therefore, are to hear the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart; this is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path. The one who received it on patches of rock is the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy. But he has no root in him, he does not last; let some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, and he falls away at once. The one who received the seed in thorns is the man who hears the word but the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the word and so he produces nothing. And the one who received the seed in rich soil is the man who hears the word and understands it; he is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.’
Twice in this passage Jesus speaks about the seed yielding a harvest in rich soil a hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold. Why would rich soil have such a variation in its crop? In the context of the parable Jesus obviously sees the variation as normal and acceptable, and evidence of the richness of the soil.
There is a common weed called ragwort which grows vigorously in many areas of New Zealand. Ragwort produces as many as 200,000 seeds in one seed head, which helps it to spread. Some of the seeds from a seed head will geminate in the first year, others each year for the following three to five years. In plants like ragwort the yield might only be thirty fold in the first year, but in the second year more will germinate, and in the third year, and so on.
The soil may be rich, but that alone does not guarantee instant germination. The seeds of some plants only germinate after experiencing a cold spell, which ensures they germinate after winter, in the spring when conditions are best for their survival. As it was for the seeds that fell on rock in the parable, instant germination may not be helpful in the long term.
We are all sowers of seed, particularly those who care for young people. The seeds we sow in the lives of others may not germinate instantly, and we may have to exercise patience while other factors come together to make conditions right for their germination. Faith, values, self-discipline, and respect for self and others may take their own time to germinate and flower. They must be nurtured, perhaps with no visible reward, while they develop. Patience and perseverance are essential when we have a role in the formation of others.
The message of the thirtyfold, sixtyfold and hundredfold also applies to the gifts that God has sown within each of us. They may take time to appear in their fullness, and may not do so in abundance until we have the prayer life (the rich soil) to support them.