Sunday the Fifteenth

Antiphon: “In my justice I shall see Your face, O Lord; when Your glory appears, my joy will be full (Psalm 16:15).”

Gospel excerpt: “On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow (σπείρειν, speirein). (Matthew 13:1-3)””

From my office at the university, I look out on modest suburban farm. Early in the morning, a variety of John Deere equipment travels back and forth, up and down preparing the ground for various seeds to produce a cornucopia of tasty fall vegetables. In contrast to this large-scale scene, I visited a friend a few months ago who said to meet her in the backyard. When I arrived, I saw her in the garden with 2 tape measures, 3 rulers, an old tray used to count-out prescription drugs along with a small shovel and bucket of water. I understood the shovel and water for planting, but ‘what is this other stuff?’ I asked her. "Oh, the 1 ruler is set for the diameter of the hole, the other is for the depth of the hole, the other for the spacing to the next hole, the tape measure for the length of the row and the other measure for space between rows. The tray is to count the right number of seeds for each hole.” I needed a nap just listening to the preparatory and measuring work and so I asked her, why not plant the seeds like the sower did in the Gospels? Her look said volumes.

It is difficult to choose a particular theme or word from the abbundanza given to us this week. The effectiveness of God's Word (Isaiah), the profound hope freely offered to us (Saint Paul), mystery, parable and Kingdom of Heaven (Gospel) are all necessary aspects of the journey that must be pondered. Seeing the efficiency of modern-day farming techniques (definitely, a good thing) and the ‘meticulousness’ or ‘exactitude’ (I can think of a few other words, but I will be charitable) of my friend in planting her garden, I wondered about the ‘sower who went forth to sow.’ The Gospel text says nothing about efficiency nor proper measurement of the holes; not to mention the number of seeds in each hole. In fact, the Greek verb σπείρειν (speirein) often meant “sowing seed by scattering it over the ground.” While this approach to farming is more my style, it does raise a concern about being haphazard. After all, seeds do cost money and one certainly wants to be a good steward of resources. If you know that seed will not grow in a particular area, it seems to make sense not to waste the precious resource.

Many centrist Scripture scholars note that the use of σπείρειν is used allegorically in the Gospels. This does not mean that we omit the literal sense and usage of σπείρειν. The literal sense (in this case, “to sow,” “to sow by scattering over the ground”) is and must always be our starting point with any episode recorded in Sacred Scripture. With the literal sense of Scripture as the starting point, we also hold that Scripture has a richer meaning, a meaning beyond the literal that does not contradict the literal. These are the moral, allegoric and anagogic Spiritual senses of Sacred Scripture (the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a quick summary of these Senses). While much can be said about each of these Spiritual Senses, we will take a look at the allegorical use of “seed” because it is the way Jesus Himself teaches the disciples the meaning of the parable.

The Greek root of the word “allegory” means “to speak (or express, obtain) another.” In other words, an allegory points to another person, place or thing. For Jesus, the seed is the “word of the Kingdom.” It is in this sense that the seed (“word of the Kingdom”) must be scattered liberally, without any limiting decision on the part of the person spreading the word. It is not within a person's, minister's or the Church's purview to decide who gets to hear the Word of God. No doubt anyone in ministry knows this to be intellectually true. Yet in the daily living of life, we make all sorts of decisions about other people based on what we think they can handle or accomplish. In essence, we decide for another. The Sower, Jesus Himself, demands that the gifts given be given freely to others with His eyes, not our eyes of efficiency or exactitude.

Alternative Opening Prayer:
let the light of Your truth
guide us to Your Kingdom
through a world filled with lights
contrary to Your own.
Christian is the Name and the Gospel
we glory in.
May Your love make us what You have
call us to be.
We ask this through Christ Our Lord.

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