20 July. Wednesday, Week 16

Saint Apollinaris, optional memorial

1st Reading: Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10

The prophet’s vocation to speak God’s word

The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin.

The word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God!
Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9

The parable of the sower and the seed

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”


A harvest through patience and perseverance

Today we begin a series of readings from Jeremiah, one of the most influential prophets, whose impact on the popular piety of Israel was immense. The popular fame of Jeremiah helps to explain why the book is textually so mixed up, between the Hebrew and its early Greek translation. Sayings that were in popular use among the ordinary people will tend to be adapted and expanded. Today also begins a series of parables from Matthew’s gospel. A parable is a story which ends with a single punch-line that emerges naturally from the story yet usually takes the reader somewhat by surprise by its application. As we compare the same parable in different gospels, we see how each evangelist felt free to adapt these enigmatic stories.

The parable of the sower shows the patience of God in dealing with us. Jesus describes the normal growth of wheat or barley. The system of fanning is quite different from ours but it would have been familiar to his listeners. Jesus draws attention to the certainty of the harvest, yielding “grain a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold.” This harvest excludes nobody from the kingdom: whether with few or with many talents, all have a part. Not only does the natural process of sowing, growth and harvesting contrast with the sudden appearance of the quail and manna, but the parable insists on the virtue of waiting.

When towards the end of his career Jeremiah told the story of his vocation, he attributes everything to God’s care for him, even before his birth. Surrendering to providence, he glimpsed that he had been “a prophet to the nations,” a hope passed on to future generations, until it was fulfilled in Christ (Gal 1:15). Whether in Jeremiah or in ourselves, every God-directed hope leads to the harvest, whether of a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold. Small or large, all will have been worthwhile.

Receiving the seed of God’s Word

The parable of the sower is one of the best known images in the gospels. It is the only parable to which Jesus explains the interpretation to his disciples. The different kinds of soil admirably suggest different kinds of human response to God’s message. We are reminded that although God’s word is powerful it needs a response from us if it is to be effective in our lives. We have to open ourselves to the word if it is to bear fruit. The parable identifies certain blocks to our opening ourselves to the Lord’s word. One is the lack of understanding; we need to know who Jesus is and what he has done and said if we are to respond to him.

Another potential block is our tendency to keep God at arm’s length, so that his word never takes really deep root in us. A third block is our becoming too immersed in both the anxieties and the pleasures of life so that they become our primary reality. In his interpretation of the parable of the sower Jesus shows a realistic grasp of the obstacles within and around us to his presence and to his word, obstacles which he himself has to somehow overcome. However, that realistic picture should not lead us to discouragement. The message of the gospels as a whole is that the Lord’s persistence is stronger than those obstacles. When on one occasion Jesus’ disciples asked him the rather despairing question, ‘Who can be saved?’, Jesus replied, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’ [MH]

St Apollinaris, bishop and martyr.

Apollinaris, who was born in Antioch (Syria) in the first century, moved to Italy and became the first bishop of Ravenna. Legend has it that he was appointed bishop by St. Peter himself. He suffered exile because of his preaching and converts. When Emperor Vespasian banished Christians from Ravenna, Apollinaris was beaten by a mob and reputedly died soon after from his wounds.

One Comment

  1. Hi Fr Pat –I am the parish secretary and I use your website a lot! It’s great for me as a lay person to put such interesting articles relating to the gospel in the newsletter. A lot of our parishioners are elderly and don’t use the internet so this is one way to spread the word. Fr Paul is very supportive of this and will look at your website too. Great to think the other side of the world is looking at our website!

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