Many years ago as a child, my love for apples made me to attempt cultivating apple seeds in our garden. My idea was that since it was (and still is) costly to buy a couple of foreign apples, having an apple tree will be highly beneficial as I will have as much as I needed while leisurely sitting on one of its branches. I took some apple seeds and religiously had them planted following the primary seed sowing instructions I got from our primary science teacher, which included but not restricted to using organic manure and predisposition to sufficient sunlight and wet soil. After the planting I was very happy and looked forward to seeing the sprouting seedling that would graduate to the fruitful apple tree I dreamt about; I even prayed for the seeds for fruitfulness!
Every morning, I went to inspect the cultivated site hoping to see a sign of germination. Days turned into weeks and weeks graduated into months but nothing happened. One day my mother asked me what I was always checking up in the garden and out of frustration and tearful eyes, I opened up to tell her that my apple seeds have refused to germinate. She pitied me and with a soothing and placating smile she told me that our tropical type of soil and climate would not favour the germination of the apple seeds I planted; I was disappointed and felt really bad.
I had believed in the seeds I had, but the soil and the climate were not helpful for my apple seeds to germinate and grow to full grown deciduous tree. Seeds generally don’t function except on the right soil with the right climatic conditions. The First Reading (Isaiah 55:10-11) and the Gospel Reading (Matt. 13:1-23) gave us a great picturesque of a typical agrarian setting. In the First Reading, the Prophet Isaiah tells us that it is impossible for rain and snow to come down without making the earth wet for the benefit of the seeds that are sown to grow and provide food for people (as the word of God cannot go forth without accomplishing what it is set to do). In the gospel reading, our Lord Jesus Christ made use of the agricultural practice of seed sowing to teach how different people receive the word of God and what becomes of them afterwards. We shall be dwelling more on the gospel passage in what follows.
From the gospel reading, we are told that a great crowd came to our Lord Jesus Christ possibly after the drama that accompanied the healing of the man with a withered hand in the Synagogue on a Sabbath day and the consequent plot against him by the Pharisees (Matt.12:9-15). Notably, our Lord was running an open air ministry as no house could contain his teeming audience. On this day, he used a boat as a rostrum while the crowd gathered by the bank to the sea. Seated like a typical oriental teacher, our Lord began to teach them many things in parables. The major teaching was about a sower who went to sow seeds using the known method of the time which is manual broadcasting of the seeds over a given area.
Our Lord taught that as the sower sowed the seeds using the broadcasting method the seeds found themselves in four different places or soils:
- The Pathway (Roadside) Soil: As the name suggests, the seeds landed on the walkway where due to constant human and animal traffic the soil is hardened. This in turn made it difficult for the seeds to germinate. Hence as the seeds landed on that soil, they remained on the surface only to be kicked about by unsuspecting road users or be carried off by hungry birds. From here we get the Pathway (Roadside) Hearts.
- The Rocky Soil: Some of the seeds landed on rocky landscapes. Here one can find surface soil and that is all. There is no depth on account of the presence of rock. The seeds here begin to germinate but because they cannot go deeper to advance their roots on account of the rock, they wither when the heat of the sun intensifies. From here we get the Rocky Hearts.
- The Thorny Soil: Like the seeds in the rocky soil, these ones also germinate and even more than the ones on the rocky soil, find some depth. However they are hindered by their environment, namely the thorns around them. Hence the thorns prevents them from actually gaining full maturity as they are choked to extinction. From here we get the Thorny Hearts.
- The Good Soil: This soil as the name implies is not on a pathway and it is neither rocky nor thorny. The description “good” means that it has all the climatic and environmentally befitting frameworks to bring about fruitfulness. From this we can derive the Good Hearts.
By the end of the parable, the disciples came to our Lord to ask why he spoke to the crowd in parable. Let us examine this very well. He spoke to the crowd in parable and he gave the reason that it is because their hearts have grown dull, their ears are heavy and their eyes are closed. We can also ask what brought about this “calamity”. The reason is because they have not been able to accept our Lord personally because they are still in the crowd. The crowd is nobody; so there is no identity. Those that had accepted our Lord became disciples and no more crowd. There is no salvation in the crowd. For you to have a personal encounter you must single yourself out from the crowd and become a disciple. Identity is important in our relationship with God.
Our Lord then took time to explain to his disciples (not the crowd), the meaning of the parable of the sower and the seeds. From the analysis we have above, four types of hearts or if you like individuals are involved in the encounter with the seed which represents the word of God. We shall be examining these hearts instructively.
- The Pathway (Roadside) Hearts: Like in the parable, this is the heart that is most accessible because of its location. Being the pathway, it accommodates traffic at all times. Everything comes in, but nothing stays because there is no depth. We are often in this frame of heart when we have a fundamental disconnect with the word of God. At those times when we just sit and hear (not listening) to such words like repentance, forgiveness, patience we feel that our time is being wasted or that they are not important for the time being. It is based on this predisposition that it is often said that something enters into one ear and leaves through the other.
- The Rocky Hearts: In geology, rock refers to naturally occurring solid aggregates of minerals. It could be igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic. For a heart to be referred to as rocky means that it has the solid formation. In juxtaposition with the gospel, the rocky hearts are those that receive the word of God on the surface (top soil) but lack the depth for its germination and sustenance. Are our hearts not rocky when our decision for a change after listening to the word only expires after few days? At those times our resolutions for better life styles are soon reversed on account of lack of depth.
- The Thorny Hearts: A thorn is a plant with sharp woody and impeding spines. Thorns have no known direct positive usage apart from being used as an impediment of some sort whereby the user may even run the risk of being harmed. The most famous usage of thorn was during the passion of Jesus Christ where it was used as a crown on his head. From the above description, one can only imagine what would become of a thorny heart that receives the word of God. Such a heart with a thorny landscape will be an actual danger for the word of God which is eventually choked up. We often operate by means of this thorny heart when we prefer the fleeting things of this world to the eternal things of heaven. That is to say, our choices affect what the word of God does in us.
- The Good Hearts: The good hearts are predominantly receptive, functional and productive. This is seen when we not only hear, but also listen to the word of God, understand and put them in action. It is here that the word of our Lord Jesus Christ in John (10:27) resonates “the sheep that belongs to me listens to my voice, I know them and they follow me”. The good heart is not by accident. It is rather the outcome of obedience and commitment to the word of God. There are indeed very few good hearts in our world otherwise evil and wickedness would not have been as much as they are because the hearts would have produced far reaching good and effective fruits as by their fruits you shall know them (Matt.7:20).
It was the psalmist (Ps. 95:7) who said: “Oh that today you will listen to his voice harden not your heart”. This is an instruction as well as a plea. Imagine the number of preachers in our world today and their respective audiences and the height of disobedience we notice at the same time. Does it mean that the preachers are not preaching well or that the listeners are not affected? Well as we saw in the parable, among four soils (hearts) only one is good the rest three are faulty. That means there are many faulty hearts and just few good hearts.
It is timely enough for us to question the type of heart we have. The Pathway (Roadside), the Rocky, the Thorny or the Good heart. This is not a question that would require a very hasty answer. There is need for us to take our time to do in-depth introspection in view of coming up with a better assessment of our hearts in relation to the word of God. Like St. Paul remarked in the Second Reading that the whole creation is waiting patiently for God’s revelation. God will also be waiting patiently for us to change our hearts from the faulty ones to the good heart.
Have a blissful week and remain blessed.
One response to “THE GOSPEL OF THE SEEDS AND SOILS: HOMILY FOR THE 15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD”
Thanks Fr. for the all-round and inspiring reflection. God’s wisdom I pray for you as you nourish the lives of his people with His word. Kudos!