Gospel Reflections

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:1-23

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Amarachi Ezeonu

Published: July 13, 2014


It is customary among the Ibo people of Nigeria that, when addressing important community or family issues, the elders often speak to the people in figurative language. They will often speak using parables, proverbs or idioms to illustrate their point or express their feelings. And when an elder gives a message using figurative language, this person is not expected to interpret the intended meaning to the audience. It is therefore, the responsibility of each person in the group to figure out the appropriate meaning for herself/himself. In fact, there is a popular saying among the Ibos that, “when an elder gives a proverb and goes on to explain the meaning to a person, the bride price paid by the person’s father to marry the mother will be returned to him by the in-laws.”

Jesus also employed effectively the use of figurative language in his teaching ministry. Often in very creative ways, he conveyed the profound messages of the Kingdom of God by drawing from the ordinary experiences or events from humanity. The parables of Christ have two vital functions; that is, they can both illustrate and reveal the veiled mysteries of the Kingdom to its audience. It is therefore, only those willing to probe deeper into these parables (like the disciples in today’s Gospel reading) that will discover the real essence for their lives. However, those who are too preoccupied with ‘the worries of this life’ will completely miss the message.

Within this Sunday’s Gospel reading (and the following two weeks), we see how St. Matthew portrays Jesus as a teacher par excellence in his use of parables to teach the message of God’s kingdom and its paramount value to those who have been invited to participate in it. Jesus teaches about the mysteries of the reign of God by using the Parable of the Sower. His listeners apparently must have been quite familiar with this method of farming and sowing since he was speaking to an audience in the countryside where this practice must have been part of their common experience. I think even for those of us who are not particularly familiar with this method of farming, the different images presented by Jesus in the reading may not be very difficult to conceptualize. In trying to do so, I imagined that one shortcoming with this method of farming in Palestine must have been that some of the seeds would certainly fall on “unsuitable ground.” Yet, despite this shortcoming, farmers still employed the method because they were certain that those seeds, eventually falling on suitable ground, would produce yields in hundred-folds, enough to make their efforts worthwhile. The Good News of the Kingdom of God will continue to spread and yield fruits despite all odds!

Jesus concludes the Parable of the Sower by simply stating, “He who has ears, let him hear.” What does he want us to hear? I think the invitation to each of us today is to be reflective. Do not just listen, but also “hear” to be able to understand where the seed of God’s Word has fallen in your life. You are your own best judge in this case.

As I reflect on the parable, what became clear to me was that I could identify myself in each of the sowing scenarios at different times in my life. One very recent incident that came to mind was how I resolved to address a particular situation in my life after listening to a very inspiring homily. Unfortunately, I never got around to doing anything about this situation because I was too caught up in my work. I never had the time, or as I thought, could not fit it into my very crowded daily schedule. What utterly shocked me as I thought further about this situation was that despite the importance and urgency with which this situation should have been dealt with, the problem was completely forgotten, until I recently recalled it to memory. I wonder how many of you reading this have found yourself in a similar situation.

We live in a very busy, fast moving world today. Often our days are filled with bucket lists of “to dos,” sometimes to the detriment of our most basic spiritual, physical, or psychological needs. What happens is that many of us have simply stopped living. Some just exist to work! They work round the clock like robots, with very little notion of their motives in life. Also, there are others who have made their careers into their ‘little gods.’ Such individuals become completely lost without their careers because their self-worth and identity are so deeply tied to what they do. Yet there are others whom while seeking to fill their ‘emptiness’ in life live under the illusion of alcohol, drugs, or other forms of ‘glamorous gratifications.’ These gratifications have become too numerous to mention. The commonality among these different categories of individuals is that whatever be the end product of their pursuit in life—be it tireless work or the fruitless search for happiness and fulfillment through deceptive means—it all dissipates as quickly as it appears, due to lack of depth. Their lives and actions are very shallow, like the seed of the Word failing to thrive on poor ground.

Jesus spent time explaining the parable to those disciples who were willing to delve deeper into understanding of the Word of God. These individuals took the trouble to meet him in private to seek further explanation and clarification of the parables. Yet there were many others who simply walked away, probably because they saw no point in going further. Today, the choice is yours and mine: To go to the Lord to seek the light for understanding the significance of this parable as it applies either to your life or simply to walk away. St. Augustine rightly points out that, “An unreflective life is not worth living.” One simple way of being reflective is in thorough self-examination. This reflection is not intended as a means to scourge oneself, but so that we can re-focus our priorities in life, lest we run the risk of “withering for lack of roots,” as the parable instructs. Therefore, like the elders in the Ibo tradition, I believe Jesus expects each of us to do our individual homework in discovering the significance of this Sunday’s parable in our faith journey. “Whoever has ears ought to hear,” he says. What do think he wants you to hear?

You might find some of these questions helpful in your reflection:

  • What is the primary motivation in your job? Are you primarily motivated by your love of God and love for humanity? Is it just for self-gratification? Or has your work become an escape from addressing some real personal issues in your life?
  • Where do you currently draw nourishment for your spiritual, emotional and psychological wellbeing?
  • How much attention do you give to self-care: spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical?
  • How much time do you spend in quiet reflection?

Lastly, you will probably surprise or even shock yourself if you answer simply and honestly the above questions, just for yourself. Do so, as I also endeavor to do the same.

 

 

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