What do you hear?

Next Sunday is the celebration of the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time. You can read a complete commentary on the Gospel here.

1 On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore.3 And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.5 Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,6 and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.7 Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.8 But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.9 Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

10 The disciples approached him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”11 He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.12 To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’14 Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:

‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. 15 Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted,and I heal them.’

16  “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. 17 Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

18  “Hear then the parable of the sower.19 The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.21 But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.22 The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.23 But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” (Matthew 13:1-23)

Last Sunday’s gospel was comprised on the final pericope in Matthew 11; today our gospel begins with Mt 13:1.  One can rightly ask, “What happened to chapter 12?”  As it happens, Matthew 12 is not used on any Sunday or Solemnity in the church’s celebrations – and with respect to bible study, that is a critical omission because Mt 13:1-23, the Parable of the Sower along with its explanation, is Jesus’ response to the events of chapter 12.

In the New American Bible (NAB) translation used by the Church for its proclamation of the gospel, Mt 12 “headers” include the following:

  • Picking Grain on the Sabbath – Jesus’ status as the authoritative interpreter of the law is exemplified in the incident of the disciples’ plucking and eating grain on the sabbath. The account ends with the clear message: “… the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.” (v.8)
  • The Man with a Withered Hand – The question of sabbath observance continues as Jesus initiated a challenge to the Pharisees rooted in his earlier question to them: “If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (v.7). This account ends with the Pharisee plotting to put Jesus to death.
  • The Chosen Servant – In the midst of the rising opposition to Jesus from the Pharisees, Matthew pauses and places Jesus’ response in the context of the OT Servant of the Lord. Jesus was fully aware of the rising opposition (v. 15) but continued his healing activity (vv. 15–16). His modesty and gentleness in the face of hostility are viewed as the fulfillment of Isa 42:1–4.
  • Jesus and Beelezebul – The healing of a possessed man who was blind and mute provides the occasion for exploring the source of Jesus’ power. The healing (v. 22) produces two reactions: wonder on the part of the crowds whether Jesus is the Son of David or Messiah (v. 23), and hostility from the Pharisees, who are convinced that he is the instrument of Satan (v. 24).
  • A Tree and its Fruits – Jesus takes the offensive with three warnings: (1) Closeness to Jesus is absolutely essential, and the Pharisees must recognize it or run the risk of being on the wrong side when God’s kingdom comes (v. 30). (2) The only unforgivable sin is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to an evil spirit, as the Pharisees were doing in the case of Jesus. Failure to recognize the Son of Man for what he is may be understandable and even pardonable, but failure to recognize the source of his power is inexcusable (vv. 31–32). (3) The Pharisees’ opposition to Jesus stems from their wickedness, and in the final judgment they will be judged with regard to their willingness or unwillingness to confess that Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit (vv. 33–37).
  • The Demand for a Sign – Despite all the miracles that Jesus had already worked, the scribes and Pharisees ask for more signs. The basic meaning of the sign of Jonah seems to involve the preaching of repentance to non-Jews and its acceptance by them. In verse 40, Matthew has given a second interpretation of the sign of Jonah: the three days spent by the prophet inside the fish (see Jonah 2) were a type or a foreshadowing of the three days between Jesus’ death and his resurrection.
  • The Return of the Unclean Spirit – The passage about the evil spirit’s return is joined to the sign of Jonah by its reference to “this evil generation” (vv. 39, 45), and to the entire section beginning at 12:22 by its concern with evil spirits.
  • The True Family of Jesus – The long treatment of unbelief and rejection that began in the missionary discourse of chapter 10 and continued in the incidents of chapters 11–12 concludes with the definition of the true family of Jesus as those who do God’s will.

Chapter 12 tells how widespread is the opposition (or resistance) to Jesus’ saving message: Pharisees, the people, and perhaps even those closest to Jesus – his disciples and family.  Signs of power and healing only lead to requests for more signs. Why do people not believe? Is there any explanation for the condition of things we have arrived at by the end of Matthew 12? Indeed there is; the explanation begins with simple words: “A sower went out to sow” (13:3)

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