FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A)
Chesterton was not speaking about the physical act of seeing, but the inward act of understanding and appreciating what one sees. Very few of us are truly blind in the physical sense. But most of us walk by amazing, even miraculous sights every day without comprehending what it is our eyes are telling us. When we finally see the things we have been looking at all along, we might be inclined to pause, take a breath, and say, "Oh, I see..."
I used to work in a small museum, and we had signs directing where our visitors needed to go. The first thing you saw when you walked through the door was a large sign with bright red lettering saying "Welcome! Museum entrance to the left." There was even a bright red arrow pointing the way. It never ceased to amaze (and annoy) the staff how many people would walk right past that large sign to the back of the room where there was a door with another sign that said, "Employees Only." They would walk through that door looking for the entrance. They all saw the signs. But many people were not looking, so they failed to comprehend what they were seeing.
Today in our gospel we hear the Parable of the Sower. Some of the sower's seed falls on the bare path where it is eaten by birds, some falls on rocky soil and cannot establish roots, and some falls among thorns which choke out their growth. But some of the seed falls on fertile ground and grows well. The seed is the same in all cases, only the ground is different.
After He preaches this parable to the large crowd, Jesus speaks just to His disciples and explains the meaning of His words. His parable describes different responses to hearing the "word of the kingdom" (Mt 13:19). Even though we all may hear the word of God, there are various distractions that can prevent us from allowing the word to take root in our hearts and bear fruit. These are the world, the flesh, and the devil, represented here by the path, the rocky soil, and the thorns.
Jesus does not always take the time to explain the meaning of His words. Think of the Bread of Life discourse in the sixth chapter of John, when the majority of His followers leave after being told they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Or think of Jesus' somewhat quizzical replies to the questions of Pilate during His trial. But here He explains to the disciples plainly the meaning of His words. It is almost as if Christ is saying, "Look, everyone heard me; they will either understand what I am saying or they won't. It doesn't matter how plainly I explain it; if they are not really listening, they won't get it."
He says, quoting the prophet Isaiah, "They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand." But to the faithful disciples, He says, "But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear."
Jesus spoke His words in public, for all to hear, but only some were willing to listen. Just like the sower cast his seed upon all terrains, but only in some was it able to take root. The same seed was cast over all. The difference was in the condition of the soil. This is a metaphor for our faith. When we begin to learn the Catechism, which is a study of our creed, the first thing we learn about is faith. The first thing we say in our creed is "I believe," which in Latin is credo. That's where our English word "creed" comes from. So our study of the creed begins with faith, and faith is kind of a mysterious thing.
Our Catechism defines faith as, "Both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God... and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed." How can faith be a free gift from God but also something we humans have to do? If faith is a gift, does God give faith only to some people and not others? If I am struggling with my faith does that mean God has't given me as much as He gives others? These are honest questions. It can be a bit confusing to be told that faith is a gift from God and at the same time our response to God.
This is where the parable of the sower helps. Just as the sower casts the same seed on all grounds, God gives the same gift of faith to all of us. But the purpose of the seed is to take root, grow, and bear fruit. To do that, it must have fertile soil. That is our part. The fertile soil is our act of faith, allowing God's word to take root. There are many things that can keep us from doing that. We could not be open to hearing the word at all. We could hear it, but be anxious or fearful to fully open our lives to it. Or we could allow the many distractions of this world to crowd it out.
Everyone in the crowd heard Jesus preach His parable. But only a few understood because only a few were truly open to listening to the Word of God. Some were made deaf by cynicism, or concern for things of this world, or attachment to sin. Others were willing to hear the word of God and follow through, even if it meant a radical change in their lives. This is a necessary condition of faith -- to be open to seeing what God is showing you, and hearing His word, and then following where He leads. Open your eyes to see His beauty. Open your hears to hear His wisdom. And prepare your heart to be rich and fruitful soil, where His gift of faith can take root and prosper. For "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" (Mt 13:23).
G. K. Chesterton said it is amazing what ordinary people can see if they decide to start seeing. We can also say it is amazing what ordinary people can hear if they decide to start listening. Let us set ourselves to this task; the wonderful task of seeing and hearing the spirit of God active in our lives.