The Divine Sower
Gospel Reflection for July 16, 2023 - Matthew 13:1-23
That day, leaving the house, Jesus had sat down by the sea-shore,
and great multitudes gathered about him, so that he went on board a ship and sat there instead, while the whole multitude remained standing on the beach.
And he spoke to them long, in parables; Here, he began, is the sower gone out to sow.
And as he sowed, there were grains that fell beside the path, so that all the birds came and ate them up.
And others fell on rocky land, where the soil was shallow; they sprang up all at once, because they had not sunk deep in the ground;
but as soon as the sun rose they were parched; they had taken no root, and so they withered away.
Some fell among briers, so that the briers grew up, and smothered them.
But others fell where the soil was good, and these yielded a harvest, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
Listen, you that have ears to hear with.
And his disciples came to him, and said, Why dost thou speak to them in parables?
Because, he answered, it is granted to you to understand the secrets of God’s kingdom, but not to these others.
If a man is rich, gifts will be made to him, and his riches will abound; if he is poor, even the little he has will be taken from him.
And if I talk to them in parables, it is because, though they have eyes, they cannot see, and though they have ears, they cannot hear or understand.
Indeed, in them the prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled, You will listen and listen, but for you there is no understanding; you will watch and watch, but for you there is no perceiving.
The heart of this people has become dull, their ears are slow to listen, and they keep their eyes shut, so that they may never see with those eyes, or hear with those ears, or understand with that heart, and turn back to me, and win healing from me.
But blessed are your eyes, for they have sight; blessed are your ears, for they have hearing.
And, believe me, there have been many prophets and just men who have longed to see what you see, and never saw it, to hear what you hear, and never heard it.
The parable of the sower, then, is for your hearing.
Wherever a man hears the word by which the kingdom is preached, but does not grasp it, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart; his was the wayside sowing.
The man who took in the seed in rocky ground is the man who hears the word and at once entertains it gladly;
but there is no root in him, and he does not last long; no sooner does tribulation or persecution arise over the word, than his faith is shaken.
And the man who took in the seed in the midst of briers is the man who hears the word, but allows the cares of this world and the false charms of riches to stifle it, so that it remains fruitless.
Whereas the man who took in the seed in good soil is the man who both hears and grasps it; such men are fruitful, one grain yielding a hundredfold, one sixtyfold, one thirtyfold. (Matthew 13:1-23 Knox Translation)
In this Gospel reading, Our Lord gives one of His greatest and most beautiful parables and, uniquely, He also explains its meaning for the apostles in more explicit terms. This parable describes the three sources of temptation to sin through the two means by which humans, according to our nature as incarnate rational persons, gain true understanding: sense imagery and intellectual abstraction. God employs both of these means throughout Scripture, using storytelling and history itself to reveal His mysteries through sacramental signification while also conveying divine Wisdom by theological reasoning. These three sources of temptation are the “Un-Holy Trinity” of the world, the flesh and the Devil (mundus, caro, et diabolus). Christ the Divine Sower, whose seed is the Word, makes the sanctifying grace of the Gospel available to all who hear it, but these temptations prevent the seed from taking root, growing strong and bearing fruit. They are the Devil’s playbook, the strategies he uses to prevent the saving work of Christ, both for those who do not yet have faith and those who are already Christian, and he employed the same strategies against Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and against Christ in the wilderness, just as he continues to use them against us today.
In a sense, these three sources of temptation which prevent the inculcation of the Word derive from a single fault: a failure to take God seriously. As our Creator, Redeemer and Savior, the cause of all goodness and the only source of meaning and purpose in existence, God should be the highest priority in our life, ordered above every inferior, derivative good, all of which are good only because they reflect to some degree His infinite Goodness and true only because they express the Idea by which He created them. To separate any created thing, including our own life, our family, our possessions, our social status or our country, from God is to detach it from the One who makes it to be what it is, who gives it any perfection which it may have and, indeed, who imparts to it its very being. Without God, all things are simply unnecessary. Yet all sin is, at base, idolatry, treating creatures as though they can exist or have any goodness apart from God, as though they are gods themselves. Those whose faith is destroyed by the world, the flesh or the Devil are those who value and prioritize the creature above the Creator. (Rom 1:25)
Following this point, as Rabanus Maurus explains,
The wayside is the mind trodden and hardened by the continual passage of evil thoughts; the rock, the hardness of the self-willed mind; the good soil, the gentleness of the obedient mind, the sun, the heat of a raging persecution. The depth of soil, is the honesty of a mind trained by heavenly discipline. But in thus expounding them we should add, that the same things are not always put in one and the same allegorical signification. (Catena Aurea)
Thus, those on the wayside prioritize their own erroneous beliefs and preconceived notions above the wonder of the Gospel; those in the rocky ground, lacking the fertile soil of perseverance, prioritize their own will, comfort and security above the redemptive suffering of the Cross and so their “faith is shaken” by the fires of affliction and persecution; and those in the briers value the pleasures, accomplishments, fame and responsibilities of this life above the eternal rewards of Heaven. It could also be said that none of these faults is solitary. Those on the wayside can fail to grasp the Word because the farmhands of the Sower, who preach the Gospel, distort the truth or employ uncharitable methods in their evangelization and thus the seed is not properly planted. Similarly, those in the rocks are assaulted by persecution, perhaps even from other Christians, and may doubt the authenticity of the Gospel, while those in the briers are often seduced by pornography, immodest dress and the pressures of modern society toward immorality. In this way, the first temptation is from the Devil, the second is from the world and the third is from the flesh.
The Devil’s playbook is popular in the world today, perhaps more than ever. We are surrounded by false beliefs, persecutions and seductions which constantly threaten our faith and seek to prevent us from evangelizing the world and glorifying God through charity – even within the Church. Nevertheless, we know that Christ faced these same temptations in the wilderness, and He overcame them. (Jn 16:33) He not only showed us a way to imitate but, through His Sacraments, gives us the grace to follow Him, to defeat the Devil and all his worldly deceits, to discipline the flesh and to take God seriously, obeying Him above all else and giving thanks to Him always for the goodness of His creatures and for our participation in the Cross. Just as our reading from the Psalms today proves, the Divine Sower has the power, by the waters of His grace, to break up the rocks and clods of our hearts, to plow and nourish them into fertile soil for the growth of His seed unto eternal life. Indeed, these obstacles are not from the Sower, whose seed is omnipotent, but from our sins:
[H]ow is it according to reason to sow seed among thorns, or on stony ground, or by the wayside?... But with minds and doctrines it is otherwise; there it is possible that the rock be made rich soil, that the way should be no more trodden upon, and that the thorns should be extirpated. That the most part of the seed then perished, came not of him that sowed, but of the soil that received it, that is the mind.” (St. John Chrysostom, Catena Aurea)
Therefore, we should never despair but always live in the certain hope of His salvation and courageously share the Faith with all.
Nevertheless, let those who think themselves to stand, take heed lest they fall, and, with fear and trembling work out their salvation, in labours, in watchings, in almsdeeds, in prayers and oblations, in fastings and chastity: for, knowing that they are born again unto a hope of glory, but not as yet unto glory, they ought to fear for the combat which yet remains with the flesh, with the world, with the devil, wherein they cannot be victorious, unless they be with God's grace, obedient to the Apostle, who says; We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh; for if you live according to the flesh, you shall die; but if by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live. (Council of Trent, Sixth Session)
 Cf. Dwight Longenecker, “Fighting the Un-Holy Trinity: the World, the Flesh and the Devil.” https://www.catholic.org/news/national/story.php?id=35421