Gospel for Sunday, July 16: Matthew 13:1-23
XV Sunday A
1On that day Jesus went out of the house and sat down on the seashore. 2So large a crowd began to gather around him that he had to get into a boat and there sit down, while the whole crowd remained on the beach. 3He spoke to them about many things in parables. And he said, “Behold, the sower went out to sow. 4And while he was sowing, a part of the seed fell on the road, and the birds came and devoured it. 5Another part fell in a stony place, where there was not much soil; immediately it sprouted, because the soil was not deep. 6But when the sun came up, it remained scorched and having no roots it dried up. 7Another part fell on the thorns, and the thorns grew and choked it. 8Another part fell on the good ground and bore fruit, where the hundred, where the sixty, where the thirty. 9He who has ears may hear. 10Then the disciples came to him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables? “11He answered, “Because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. 12So to those who have will be given and will be in abundance; and to those who do not have will be taken away even what they have. 13Therefore I speak to them in parables: for though they see they do not see, and though they hear they do not hear or understand. 14And thus is fulfilled for them the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, Ye shall hear, but ye shall not understand; ye shall look, but ye shall not see. 15For the heart of this people is hardened, they have become hard of hearing, and have closed their eyes, lest they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, not understand with their hearts, and be converted, and I should restore them. 16But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17Truly I say to you, many prophets and righteous men have desired to see what you see, and they did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and they did not hear it! 18You therefore understand the parable of the sower: 19as often as one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and steals what has been sown in his heart: this is the seed sown along the way. 20The one sown in stony ground is the man who hears the word and immediately welcomes it with joy, 21but has no root in himself and is inconstant, so that as soon as tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he is scandalized. 22The one sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. 23The one sown in good soil is the one who hears the word and understands it; these bear fruit and produce now a hundred, now sixty, now thirty.”
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).
Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.
The liturgy has us listen for three Sundays to some of the parables collected in Matthew 13, Jesus’ third long discourse in this Gospel, called precisely the “parabolic discourse.”
The term “parable”
Among the rabbis, the parable was a true pedagogical method: an invented fact or story from the past is used to support a teaching, prepared by the formula: “To what is this like?” Jesus also uses this method (Mk 4:30; Lk 13:18; Mt 13:24, 31). Parable comes from the Greek “parabolē,” formed from the prefix “para-,” meaning “alongside,” and the verb “ballein,” meaning “to throw.” The compound verb “paraballein” thus originally means “to throw alongside.” Our very word “word” comes from “parabolē“: every word is parabolic, that is, speech to be deciphered, to be interpreted. Beneath the Greek word lies the Hebrew term “mashàl.” The term comes from the root “mšl,” which means: to rule, to govern; to be equal to, to resemble; to say a proverb, to speak in parables.
The interpretation of parables
Allegorical meaning: Allegorical interpretation is an explanation that gives each detail of the parable a particular meaning. We have allegorical interpretations in the Gospels themselves (Mt 13:1-23; Mk 4:3-8.14-20; 13:24-30.37-43). But the fundamental teaching of the parable must be drawn from the whole narrative and not from some particulars; the parable is a narrative that uses typological images and forms, and the particulars cannot be spiritualized.
Pedagogical function of parables: In the New Testament. “parable” appears only in the Synoptics (48 times), and in the letter to the Hebrews (2 times); “ainigma” only in 1 Cor 13:12, “allegoreum” only in Gal 4:24. The author of the parable sets up a story, constructs a narrative, so as to transfer his listeners into a fictitious world. But the transfer is provisional: at some point the listeners will be transferred back from the fictitious to the real, they will come face to face with a well-established reality, according to which the story was constructed. The parable has some basic elements: summary, immediacy, incisiveness, narrator, and conclusion.
To understand a parable, one must understand the story; grasp its climax; grasp the complementarity between the fictional and the real events. The parable has a “poetic” force, that is, in the “etymological” sense, “creative.”
Landmarks: The two things that captured the listeners of Jesus’ parables were: their knowledge of common landmarks and the unexpected turn of the story.
Identifying the audience: We need to try to determine how the original listeners would identify with the story, thus what they would actually hear.
Evolution of parables: from the historical Jesus to the Gospel writer: Originally Jesus almost always addressed a mixed audience (disciples, crowds, scribes and Pharisees, etc.). Later parables were used in the catechesis of the nascent Church (eventually flowing into the written Gospel), and were then offered to believers in Jesus.
“Why do you speak to them in parables?”
In Matthew (13:10) Jesus is asked why on earth he speaks in parables, thus showing that the novelty of this mode of communication had already been grasped.
To fulfill the expectation of the eschatological Prophet: the expected Messiah would speak in parables (Mt 13:34-35; cf. Sl 77:2).
To stimulate searching and conversion: speaking in riddles is more challenging: it demands searching, delving into the “mystery” (from the Greek “mùo,” shut up), which is Christ himself.
Because first one must believe in Jesus: Mark 4:34-35: To understand Jesus’ teaching, it is not enough to hear his word, but it is necessary to become his disciples, to be his intimates.
Out of mercy to those far away: The unbelievers would have been even more guilty if they had known more of the divine law.
“That they might not understand”? What is the meaning of “lest they be converted and be forgiven” (Mk. 4:12)? a) God’s foreknowledge: in the Semitic literary genre, what happens, because it was foreseen by God, somehow falls within his will: but his will is not man’s individual choice, but the underlying fact that God created him free. b) Those who do not understand the parables are not converted. “Inà,” “so that,” according to the Hebrew equivalent “lema’an” (Deut. 29:18; Jer. 7:18; 27:10.15) simply describes the result: those who do not understand the parables are not converted and do not obtain forgiveness. c) “mepote” can also mean: “unless”: “unless they are converted…”
The parable of the sower
“In this parable, the amount of seed sown by the sower is astonishing, and those who do not know that in Palestine they first sowed and then plowed to bury the seed, might think of a careless farmer… Instead, the seed is abundant because abundant is the Word of God, which must be sown, sown like a seed, without sparingly. But the preacher who proclaims it knows that there are first of all listeners who hear it resounding but in truth do not listen to it. Superficial, without great interest or passion for the Word, they hear it but do not make room for it in their hearts… Then there are listeners who have a heart capable of receiving the Word, they may even get excited about it, but they have no inner life, their heart is not deep, it does not offer conditions for it to grow, and then that preaching appears sterile: something sprouts for a while but, not nourished, immediately dries up and dies. Other listeners would have every chance to be fruitful; they welcome the Word, they cherish it, they feel that it wounds their heart, but they have other powerful, dominating presences in their hearts: wealth, success and power…
The Word is resisted and therefore dies for lack of space. But there is also someone who welcomes the Word, thinks about it, interprets it, meditates on it, prays on it and realizes it in his or her own life. Of course, the result of such abundant sowing may seem disappointing: so much seed, so much work, small the result… But littleness should not be feared: what matters is that the fruit be generated!” (E. Bianchi).
And we, who receive with such abundance the seed of the Word, what kind of soil are we?
Happy Mercy to all!
Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org.