domenica 16 luglio 2017

«Qui audit verbum et intellegit»

We start today the reading of the third discourse of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. It is known as the “sermon in parables.” As a matter of fact, rather than a discourse, it is a collection of parables—seven, to be precise. We have read the first one today; we will read the other six on next two Sundays.

What is a parable? It is a developed simile. Let me explain: a simile is a comparison between two things. For example, if I say, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” it is a simile; but if I develop that simile into a story, it becomes a parable. So, parables are stories taken from everyday life, used to illustrate some particular teachings. Why did Jesus use parables? Usually we answer this question saying that Jesus employed this teaching device to illustrate the mystery of the kingdom of God. But, if we consider what Jesus says in today’s gospel, maybe we have to revise this conviction. It would seem that Jesus speaks to people in parables not to make himself understood, but to prevent them from understanding. Parables are not tales that make easy what is difficult; we could say that they are like a “veiled revelation,” that is to say, they reveal the mystery of the kingdom of God to those who are open to receive it, but for those who are close to the truth they become an obstacle to the knowledge of this mystery.

The first of the seven parables is the parable of the sower. Besides the explanation that Jesus himself gives of the parable, we find in the liturgy the key to interpret it correctly. The acclamation before the gospel tells us the meaning of the main elements of the parable: “The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower.” To tell the truth, there is another element in the parable, forgotten by the liturgy—the ground; and we are the ground. So to speak, the characters of the parable are three: the sower, the seed, and the ground—Christ, the word of God, and the humankind. Someone says that in this parable we witness the encounter between the seed and the ground; and this encounter is made possible by the sower: Jesus is the one who announces the word of God to the human race.

The seed and the ground need each other. The seed has in itself life; but, in order for it to bear fruit, it has to be interred. As Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). The prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, compares the word of God to rain and snow, to tell us that it is efficacious in itself: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

The ground by itself cannot produce anything; if left to its own devices and not cultivated, it soon becomes desert. In order for it to produce fruit, it has to be weeded, fertilized and sown with seed. And here there comes into play the sower, who tills the land and sows the seed on the ground. But there is a problem: the outcome is not guaranteed, despite the intrinsic efficacy of the seed. The fruit does not depend only on the seed, but on the ground also. That is why Jesus in the parable speaks of four possible different cases. In three of them—the road, the rocky ground and the thorns—the seed bears no fruit; in the last case—the good soil—the seed bears fruit, even though in different measure—but, for the moment, it does not matter.

In the parable, the reasons are clear why the seed, in the three first cases, does not produce fruit: that fallen on the path is eaten by the birds; the seed fallen on rocky ground springs up, but it is scorched by the sun; the one fallen among thorns is choked by them. Jesus himself explains the meaning of these different situations. In all three cases Jesus uses the expression “hears the word.” The three of them hear the word; but it is not enough. In order to bear fruit, it is not enough to hear the word of God. And it is not enough even to receive it superficially, or let it be choked by the cares of the world. There is need of understanding the word of God: “The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it” (qui audit verbum et intellegit). It is not just a question of intellectual comprehension; we have to receive the word in depth. But in order for this to happen, we have to prepare the soil, by cleaning it from stones, thorns and weeds, so that the seed may sprout and bear fruit. We have to be good soil, if we want the word of God to produce its fruit in us. The fruit is a gift of God—the seed comes from him. But it depends on us to allow the seed to root, spring up and bear fruit in us.