How to get much, much more out of Jesus' parables.
Jesus was a master of the art of communications. When speaking to crowds he often spoke in parables—memorable stories based on familiar routines from daily life. The reason parables are an ingenious way to communicate is that the stories make a lasting impression so they are easy to recall, to ponder and repeat to others.
At the same time, parables are deceptively simple because each reveals profound mysteries about God and his kingdom. And people can learn from them at whatever place they are in their spiritual and intellectual journey of faith. So, although God’s words are the same, every mind and heart receive them differently, uniquely, as if they were spoken for him or her alone. And each person responds to God’s word in a unique, personal way.
In chapter thirteen of Saint Matthew’s Gospel we find seven parables. That’s the reason this chapter is usually called the parables discourse. Because the subject matter and themes are similar, the parables are called the kingdom parables.
Jesus taught the seven parables on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, sometimes called Lake Gennesaret or Lake Tiberius. Visitors to this fertile plain west of the Sea of Galilee can appreciate Jesus’ description of the sower in the parable (Matthew 13: 1-23).
In the Holy Land at the time of Jesus, the fields were laid out in long narrow strips. The ground between the strips served as a footpath for those who crossed through the fields. Over time these paths were beaten hard by the feet of countless villagers who passed through the fields to get to their destinations. As the sower went about his task in the fields, the wind carried the seed and some would fall on these hardened paths.
The Word of God is the same for each person, but each person responds to God’s love in different ways. Our free will is unique and mysterious.
Of all of Jesus’ parables, I have found this one to be the most difficult to understand. How can we unpack its meaning and apply it to our daily lives?
As a priest, I deal with many, many people and have learned that every person is unique, but one can generalize about their habits of Church attendance.
When we observe the life of most parishes, we notice that some people come only a few times each year. The pews on Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Easter fill with many new faces. Perhaps some of these people may return, but usually only for special occasions, such as a wedding or a funeral.
There are those who attend Sunday Mass often, but not every Sunday. They seem to have other priorities that keep them from worshipping on the Lord’s Day. Work, travel, visits from family and friends, professional sporting events and hunting season may be higher priorities in their lives.
We also notice that there are a lot of people who attend Mass only to receive a sacrament, such as their First Holy Communion or their Confirmation and then they disappear. I’ve recently heard a term for this frustrating phenomenon: merit badge Catholicism.
Certainly, most parishioners attend Mass every Sunday and some even attend Mass every day.
That’s the general picture of parish life and people’s response to God’s invitation. So now let’s take a closer look at the parable.
"A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up" (Matthew 13: 4).
Those whose minds are closed to the Word of God have no more chance of it taking root than the seed that drops on the hard path. Their pride erects barriers to the truth, making them unteachable. Sadly, deliberate blindness caused by immoral lifestyles and error destroys any hope of peace and joy. Such attitudes endanger their eternal salvation.