15th Sunday A
Sunday 16th July 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Jesus went out of the house, down to the lakeside, but many people pressed around him. He got into a boat and pushed out a little from shore so that the people stood around him on the beach and he told them many riddle-stories.
‘Imagine a farmer going out on a brisk spring morning. The clear cold air filling him with vigour, he casts out the seed, wide and generous across his paddocks and beyond! Some seed fell on the footpath, and the sharp–eyed birds quickly gobbled them up. Some fell amongst the rocks. There, warmed by the rock and the little dew that had fallen, they sprouted quickly, but as the sun grew hot, they had no root to draw on and they shrivelled and died. Some seed fell amongst the weeds. The broad flat leaves of those weeds stifled the seed and, getting no sunlight, it failed to thrive. But some seed fell on good soil, it sprouted and what a yield it gave! It was almost beyond belief – thirty-, sixty-, even a hundred-fold – incredible! Listen, anyone who has ears!’
The disciples then approached Jesus, ‘Why do you talk like this to people, in these riddle-stories?’ ‘Because they reveal whether the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are alive in them. You understand and “get it” but for the people who fail to understand, they know less and less and even become confused. The reason I talk in riddle-stories is to make them realise how much they fail to understand. They are obtuse and need to know it. Look Isaiah spoke about people like this:
“They listen over and over again, but still don’t get it,
They go over and over it and still don’t get the point.
Because their heart has grown coarse,
they don’t pick up on what is happening,
they shut their eyes to what they don’t like,
because if they heard what was really happening,
saw what was in front of them,
it would require them to be converted,
to change their life radically
and be healed by me.’
‘But for you – you are blest because you have the insight to see, the understanding to hear. Do you realise how the greatest people of the past longed to see and hear all this, yet they never saw or heard what you are experiencing?
‘So now, this is what the riddle story of the sower is about. The seeds on the path are like people who hear the word of God and because they take no time to try and understand it, they get distracted. The evil one then easily influences them with other things. The seed that fell amongst the rocks are like people who received the word and let it take root, but difficulties quickly came – they had to confront their own personal failures, or they were persecuted for their beliefs – and they found it too hard and gave up. The seed that fell amongst the thorns are like people too secure in the ways of this world. Wealth, riches, the need for security, all stifle the need and hunger for God. They may speak of the word but it makes no difference to their lives. But, ah, the seed that falls in rich soil gives an extraordinary yield. These people yield a harvest far beyond anything they could imagine – a hundredfold, or even sixty, or even thirty.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 64: 10-14
You care for the land, watering it from the rivers of heaven
making it moist and fruitful.
You prepare the soil for corn,
well watered, it yields richly.
The furrows run with waters,
rivulets splashing down them.
Softened with moisture
the sprouting seed is blest.
The year’s growth is rich in your goodness.
All your ways yield abundantly.
Even the wild pastures and hills
rejoice in glorious growth.
The paddocks are covered with flocks,
the valleys, filled with wheat.
All sing and shout for joy.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, our lives are like a field in which you desire your life of grace to flourish. Send us your Spirit to open us to the teaching of Jesus that we may live by his word and serve with his love. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This Sunday’s Gospel begins the third sermon section of the five in the Gospel of Matthew. The central placement alerts us to its importance. Up until now in the Gospel, Jesus’ teaching has been offered to all but, through the use of parables, distinction is increasingly made between those who understand Jesus’ teaching and accept him and those who don’t.
The third sermon consists largely of parables. We, who are so used to the parables, see them as benign little stories built on daily experience that give a moral tale. The parables that came from Jewish writings later than Jesus’ time were usually like that – Jesus’ were not. They usually had an element that made the people sit up straight and ask each other: ‘Hey, what does that mean? People don’t act like that.’ They were like ‘riddle-stories.’ The parable of the Sower illustrates this well.
When the sower goes out sowing he throws his seed about profligately. Good farmers don’t do that. Seed was precious and if the seed being sown didn’t produce, there would be little for next year as the viability of seed deteriorated over time. You can be sure that good farmers were very proficient at sowing seed exactly where they wanted it to go, to ensure a crop, and with it the coming year’s food. Jesus’ sower has so much seed and knows its fecundity so well that it goes everywhere. Jesus’ teaching has been offered to all so far – when it fails to produce fruit, it is not the fault of the teaching – that is rich, that is sure.
A question for the disciples and for the early church was: why do some accept the word and others do not? Jesus’ answer is not quite as straight as it seems. His reply describes a series of attitudes that make it difficult for his teaching to flourish in the people’s lives but one would have a hard time convincing people like this of changing their ways – if they don’t get the point of Jesus’ teaching they don’t see the point of changing their lives. But to those who do accept him, these attitudes make a very good test for what could be undermining their commitment to God and to Jesus.
There are three: distractions, life too hard, life too easy. 1). Jesus expects his followers to take his word seriously, giving it central place in their lives. It cannot flourish with a number of competing interests. 2). Living by his teaching will bring difficulties and challenges so his followers shouldn’t be surprised but actually use their faith to deal with the challenges. 3). Those who live in affluence (most in our Western society) have the problem of being cocooned from the experience of the neediness which is often a primary means by which we recognise our utter dependence on God. These three attitudes, rather than being means by which to judge others, are actually means by which to test our own hearts’ faithfulness.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Jesus’ explanation as to why he teaches in parables can appear somewhat harsh. Many who heard these ‘riddle-stories’ didn’t understand and, it seems, not for want of trying. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus even states that these people listen and listen again, see and see again and still not understand. It can seem that God is placing the bar too high for them to reach and then condemning them for failing. But perhaps it is our lack of appreciation of just what type of understanding Jesus is wanting.
The usual type of knowledge we normally use consists of accumulating more and more information. As we learn more, we integrate it into what we already know and become more proficient, better at our trade or our interests. But there are other types of knowledge that require a personal transformation that can be quite difficult. We met this especially in relationships. A child morphs into an adolescent and seems to come from a strange place. Continuing to treat him or her like a child will do no good. For understanding to even begin there has to be a movement out of the familiar and well known into a sense of awe in the face of this new mystery. That can often not be easy as the ‘new mystery’ is not being polite or obliging.
It is this type of understanding that is needed to ‘crack’ the riddle-story. It is not that we need to accumulate more information about God or Jesus but rather that we have to understand in a new way. We have to put aside our notions of being in control, our ideas about God, or even morality and stand empty-handed and in awe of such a God. It is not that God has set the bar too high but rather we need to approach with humble hearts and empty hands.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
Though this Gospel is commonly called the Parable of the Sower, the story really isn’t about the sower but rather what happens to the seed in the differing soils into which it falls. It is assumed that the sower has thrown widely the rich and fruitful seed – what soil will allow growth?
Jesus describes three outlooks on life that will stifle the growth of the Kingdom of God in our lives.
Firstly, there is distraction. Constant novelty can give the illusion of growth. In the midst of constant change we are stimulated by passing things and can mistake this for transformation. The work of grace within a person requires entering into oneself, facing one’s liabilities and dealing with them – this is often boring, messy and difficult – and it takes time.
Secondly, there is difficulty. The Kingdom of God demands that we commit ourselves to certain values. These values challenge us personally in difficult ways and can make life uncomfortable for us in the wider society. If we focus on the hardships we encounter, rather than on the power of the Word, we will be overwhelmed and give up.
Thirdly, there is comfort. The desire for the ease which comes with wealth, status and privilege can stifle our sense of what the Kingdom of God really is about. Our hearts have an innate neediness, which is our hunger for God. We need to be ‘at ease’ with our neediness and not try to ease the neediness with false comforts.
Jesus does not directly describe the good soil, except to say that it allows the seed to grow to abundance. We do not make the growth of the Kingdom of God within us – rather all we can do is not allow distraction, difficulty and comfort, stifle the growth of grace within us.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
– Van Gogh often painted the image of a sower. In this painting we see a man sowing in a determined fashion. Van Gogh painted this scene a number of times. This painting is of a peasant woman binding sheaves at harvest time.
– In this painting by James Tissot we see the vigour and abundance with which the sower throws the seed.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
This is a week of Growth! In the Mulling Meditation we will try to recognise what fosters growth in the life of God.
Over this week, mull on what fosters the growth of God’s grace in your life:
Look over the past few years and try to remember the times of growth,
What initiated this growth?
– Was it a difficulty you had to face?
– A challenging or loving word?
– An opportunity that you decided to take up?
Mull over how you reacted to these changes?
– Did you accept them enthusiastically?
– Did you grumble first and then get on with it?
– Did you seriously consider all option?
Through the small events of this week, allow the grace of God to grow through you.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
The theme of this Sunday’s Gospel clearly offers insight for this week’s Mirror Mediation.
Rest quietly with your God.
Affirm God’s overwhelming love of God for you.
Gently consider the three types of soil that Jesus says fails to produce fruit. As you meditate on these soils, consider how they could figuratively represent different aspects of your life.
– When do you allow yourself to be distracted from what is important to you?
– When do you ignore the values of the Kingdom because they might cause you difficulty?
– When do you allow ease to stifle your sense of neediness?
After you have imagined how these forces undermine the Kingdom of God in your life, now, resting in God’s love, imagine how that love could change your response.
– What would God’s love have you focus on?
– How could you express the values that cause you difficulty in a new, fresh way?
– What type of discipline do you need to jolt you out of taking the easy way?
Resting in God’s love, imagine your life filled with the abundance of God.