Jesus has been ‘in the house’ in Capharnaum, dealing
with the question of who belongs in his family.
He leaves the house to go and teach along the
shore. The crowd is so great that he is in danger
of being pushed into the sea, so he gets into
a boat and pushes out a little from the shore
on the quiet waters of the Sea of Galilee and
talks to the crowd on the slope of the beach.
These are people who are searching for belief,
potential believers, and he tells them a parable.
The use of parables was common at the time of
Our Lord as a means of teaching. A parable is
based on ordinary life or on nature, and its purpose
is to catch the attention of the listener. This
is done either by the vividness of its detail
or by the strangeness of the story itself. The
aim is to get the listener to think, so it is
not just ‘a simple story’. Every detail in the
story is not important except that it may contribute
to the strangeness of the tale. In the parable
of the Sower, for example, the seed is sown but
there is no mention of ploughing or manuring the
field, which might seem an odd way to go about
things to anyone who knows anything about agriculture.
The man who sows does not come back. The result
is that the seed is the focus of all attention.
In the parable then it is the seed and not the
sower that is important.
There is a contrast between the four sowings.
In many parts of Palestine there is thin soil
over rocky ground. The thorns, which may include
briars, thistles, nettles and so on, could be
there as boundaries to the field or to keep animals
out. The sower sows everywhere, with prodigality,
even foolishly, in places most would see as a
waste of time and energy. The parable takes for
granted that all the seed is good. At harvest
the result is mixed but nonetheless the yield
St John’s gospel tells us: In the beginning was
the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God. We know that the Word is a person and
we know the source of his power. If that is so,
we are confronted with the problem that the disciples
faced, that faces every generation in turn. If
the word is so powerful, if all the seed is good,
why are results so patchy and variable? Why is
the word rejected? Why do some refuse to believe?
The problem was painfully real for Matthew, writing
for his own community made up mostly of people
of Jewish origin.
Only the disciples ask: Why do you talk in parables?
Before dealing with the problem of those who refuse
to believe, Jesus speaks about the privilege given
to those who not merely hear but listen, those
in whom listening has been joined to understanding:
Blessed are your eyes because they see, your ears
because they hear. The mysteries of the kingdom
are revealed to you. The disciples get special
instruction because of their response and because
others have rejected. There is a warning here
to the disciples that they too can reject. For
Matthew the community contains both good and not
so good. His explanation of the parable tries
to explain why people hear but do not listen and
take to heart.
The parable raises again the mystery of those
whom God chooses, and the equal mystery of why
some hear and reject the choice offered.
• Blessed are your eyes that see, your ears
that hear. Do I take to heart the privilege
that is mine of knowing God and Jesus Christ
–the Word of Life-- whom He has sent?
• Is it fair to say that at different times
I have reacted to hearing the Word in the ways
described in the explanation of the parable?
Have I given up easily at times when my faith
has been tested, when my prayer was ignored?
Have I been so involved with necessary material
things that I have failed to react to the challenge
offered by the Word of God? Have I allowed the
questioning of non-believers to make me forget
what I know about faith from experience in my
own life or in the life and example of others?
• The heart of this nation has grown coarse,
their ears are dull of hearing and they have
shut their eyes. Are the words of Isaiah still
true? If I agree, can that mentality influence
me now, and what might I do to stand out against
• Many have longed to see what you see . .
. to hear what you hear . . . Does that apply
only to those standing on the beach listening
to the Lord out on the boat?