July 16 2017 (A) Fifteenth Sunday of the Year
- The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
- Reflection & Dialogue: The word of God inspires eager longing and hope.
The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).
First Reading (Isaiah 55:10-11). The rain makes the earth give growth. The heading chosen for this reading suits the purpose for which it has been chosen, that is to illustrate the parable of the Sower in the Gospel reading. But it is good to recall that the central idea of the reading, namely the effective nature of the word of God in history, had quite a different aim in the original setting of the passage in the book of Isaiah. There the comparison with the rain, the snow and the growth of the seed is used to illustrate this truth. In its original setting it serves as the ending of the first part of the work now known as Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55), a work in which we have a collection of prophecies intended to raise the spirits of the Jews in Babylonia, reminding them that God was still, and always will be, with them in his word of promise and its implementation. The central point of this final passage of the book was already made at the beginning of the collection (Isaiah 40:6-8): “All flesh is grass; the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever”. The same point is made at the end of the collection, in the present passage, with the comparison with the snow and the rain that prepare the soil for a fruitful reception of the seed of the sower. Likewise, the word of God that comes forth from his mouth does not return to him empty. It moves through history and achieves the result God desires. The Word of God achieves what God wills. This does not mean that its results come about suddenly or as if through magic. Faith, patience and perseverance are required to unde
rstand the working out of God’s word in history, but whether the desired result comes sooner or later, the principle of the Scripture passage stands: The Word of God stands for ever.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 64). Some seed fell on rich soil and produced its crop.
Second Reading (Romans 8:18-23). The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons. In this chapter 8 of the Epistle to the Romans Paul lays great stress on the victory Christians have in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, a victory over the weaknesses of human nature among other matters. Yet, patience among the trials of life is necessary, sufferings that are little when compared with the glory yet to be revealed and as we await for them. Believers are represented as groaning as they await the true freedom that is their destiny. The Holy Spirit inspires this great desire for the revelation of the freedom and glory that are proper to the believers as children of God. This Spirit makes them aware of that great dignity. It is not just believers in Christ who eagerly await the revelation of this glory and freedom. All creation is represented as eagerly awaiting God to reveal the glory of his children. The entire creation is represented as wanting in fulfilling its destiny and purpose in this regard, presented as subjected to futility, not by its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope, that is, by God himself it would appear. The point appears to be that it is not just the human race but creation itself that is lacking with regard to what God had intended them to be, in this state of futility possibly due to the sins of the first parents. The Old Testament on occasion represents creation as God’s cloak of glory. Creation itself, in this sense, should represent the glory of believers, or of the human race. They both lack the freedom and glory that should be theirs, and groan inwardly as they look forward in hope for the revelation of these. The Holy Spirit inspires believers to look forward in hope to this future glory, the freedom and glory proper to those created n the image of God and recreated in that of Christ.
The Gospel (Matthew 13:1-23). A sower went out to sow. In today’s Gospel reading, after an introduction, there are three (or even four) sections, all united in theme. First there is the introduction, giving the setting of this parable, or parables in general. The Hebrew word behind the term “parable” is mashal, which can have a variety of meanings, such as proverb, wise saying, illustration, even enigma. The introduction lays stress on Jesus’ mission of teaching. One of his methods was parables, a story with comparisons, calling for reflection. After the parable of the sower itself, there is a question by his disciples as to why he had chosen this particular method of instruction. His answer is that his preaching of the Gospel has a dimension beyond the human. It is about the revelation of God’s plan of salvation, hidden for ages past but being revealed in his own person and preaching. It requires the gift of divine faith on the part of his hearers if they are to understand it properly. The apostles have this divine gift. The mysteries of the kingdom have been revealed to them, and they are blessed, happy, since many holy people throughout Israel’s history had longed to see and hear what the apostles saw and heard but never did. The text then goes on to give Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, an interpretation that would have been given to it in the early Church, and has held true down through the centuries. Jesus, who first told the parable, does not say that he is the sower. The sower is anyone preaching the message down through the centuries. The first listeners would easily understand the imagery used, with various types of soils side by side: paths, stones and rocks, thorns, as well as some rich soil. Church membership in any age will have a mixture corresponding to these soils, and the parable has a message for all to pray to have the gift of hearing faithfully the word of God’s mystery revealed in Christ, and thanking God and rejoicing that to us too has been revealed the mystery hidden from many just people for untold ages, but made known to us through Christ and his Church.
B. Reflection & Dialogue: The word of God inspires eager longing and hope.
The theme of eager longing and hope runs through the three readings today, and invite us to reflect on them in our dialogue with our modern situation. The people of Israel, to whom the first reading was addressed, were in very low spirits during the exile in Babylon, with little hope of any meaningful future. The prophet communicated God’s word to them that the divine plans were quite different. God was with them in the past and the word of their God lasts for ever. A new age was in store or them, and this immediately, a divine promise that awoke their eager longing for the better life. As of divine origin, the promise was no empty one, but one of the hope based on divine truth and God’s fidelity to his promises. And longing and the hope led to action on their part.
Likewise in the text of Paul to the Romans, where there are references to the groaning and eager awaiting of creation itself for the revelation of the freedom and the glory that are proper to the children of God. Creation might be regarded as God’s cloak of glory, and so also should it be with regard to humanity, creation as intended by God to befit the glory proper to the children of God. Paul regards creation as lacking something of what it was intended originally to have. Today creation, the environment, is regarded as in danger, not by God but by human neglect or misuse. There is a special interest in the protection of the environment, something very much in keeping with the text of Paul read today.
And with regard to the image of the Sower one may observe that the sower and seed sowing are very much part of Irish political and revolutionary history: the seed sown by former generation comes to fruition in a later harvest and inspires action by later generations. This should help us to understand the significance of the seed and the sower in the parable read in today’s Mass. The seed is the Word of God. Throughout history the Sower is God himself, and his Son Jesus. Jesus is still the Sower, and his voice, the Word of God, still resonates. But we should not forget that every believer in God and in Jesus is a seed sower, by their word and example. They, we, should not worry if the seed often falls on rocky or barren ground, or among thorns and thistles. This has always been the case. But there will always be fertile soil, immediately or in the future. Let the seed sowing continue.