Parables and freedom: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The Sower.” Van Gogh (1888)

Central idea: ‘God who created you without you, will not save you without you.’ Doctrine: The Parables of Christ. Practical application: Surrendering our freedom to God.

Lectionary 103.

Central Idea: ‘God who created you without you, will not save you without you’

Reading 1 Is 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

  • Human words are usually, at their best, informative: They convey the truth about something as best we can express it. God’s Word, on the other hand, is also performative. It achieves something, as when Our Lord said, “Your sins are forgiven” and they really were.
  • God’s word achieves the end for which he sends it. God’s will shall be done: God will keep his promises.
  • Isaiah’s words are also a prophesy of Christ. The Father sent the Word into the world to do his will. This Word did not return to the Father void, but did the will of the Father, achieving the end for which the Father sent him.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14

R. (Lk 8:8) The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.

You have visited the land and watered it;
greatly have you enriched it.
God’s watercourses are filled;
you have prepared the grain.

Thus have you prepared the land: drenching its furrows,
breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.

You have crowned the year with your bounty,
and your paths overflow with a rich harvest;
The untilled meadows overflow with it,
and rejoicing clothes the hills.

The fields are garmented with flocks
and the valleys blanketed with grain.
They shout and sing for joy.

  • Why joy before an abundant harvest? The grain and flocks mean we will not just survive another year but prosper. We are created to want complete happiness always. We are made with a nature that desires earthly and eternal beatitude. This desire is promised to be fulfilled in heaven.
  • The Word of God is like a fertile land, fully cultivated, ready to be harvested. Such a land provides everything we need physically: grain, wine, meat, and wool. Such a Word has everything we need spiritually: truth and grace.

Reading 2 Rom 8:18-23

Brothers and sisters:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

  • Reborn in baptism as children of God, we do not yet have the happiness of heaven, so we groan within ourselves and wait in hope.
  • This temporal and temporary suffering is nothing compared to the happiness that awaits us.
  • Paul says that all of creation shares in this hope. Through us, through Christ, creation itself will be “set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

Gospel Mt 13:1-23

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

The disciples approached him and said,
“Why do you speak to them in parables?”
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.
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.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
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 hearts and be converted,
and I heal them

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
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.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
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.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
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.
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.
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.”

  • It sounds as if Our Lord speaks in parables so that people will not understand him. In fact, he speaks in parables so that he will be better understood. Our Lord speaks to his disciples directly and little by little they come to understand who he is, what he is going to do, and what he wants of them. In his parables, Our Lord illustrates truths in stories so these truths can be easily remembered and understood, so these truths can have an effect on our lives.
  • The parable of the sower seems to be describing types of men. Don’t we dread the prospect of losing the salvation God offers us through our own negligence? Can’t we easily imagine that such men exist?
  • The parable can also be understood as describing each one of us. In regard to the Gospel, we can be
    • oblivious to it,
    • enthusiastic about it until it costs us something,
    • and choked with anxiety about getting by in this world and filled with desire for material goods, so the Gospel bears no fruit in our lives.
    • We can also be fruitful.
  • These contradictory and conflicting states, in part, explain the groaning in expectation that St. Paul describes as our condition.
  • The parable of the sower illustrates the truth that St. Augustine articulated this way: ‘God who created you without you, will not save you without you’ (Sermo 169, 13). Our salvation is up to God and us. God always says yes to our salvation. We can say yes and no.

Doctrine: The Parables of Christ

  • Jesus invites people into his kingdom using his characteristic teaching method of parables.
  • Christ’s invitation is like an invitation to a feast, so it can be refused.
  • If accepted, it requires “a radical choice: to gain the kingdom, one must give everything.”
  • This giving is not just verbal assent: “Words are not enough; deeds are required.”
  • The Catechism says the parables “are like mirrors for man: will he be hard soil or good earth for the word? What use has he made of the talents he has received?”
  • If we find a parable hard to understand the reason may be we have not yet become enough of a disciple of Christ: “For those who stay ‘outside,’ everything remains enigmatic.” (CCC 546)

Practical Application: Surrendering our freedom to God

  • Whatever we give to God we get back in abundance. When we give God our freedom we are making it possible for him to free us not only from sin but also to the most good of which we are capable.
  • A prayer which can help us give everything to God, which can be recited daily and in those moments when we most are tempted to hold back is the Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

The Homiletic Directory recommends the following Catechism points and themes for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • CCC 546: Christ teaches through parables
  • CCC 1703-1709: capacity to know and correspond to the voice of God
  • CCC 2006-2011: God associates man in working of grace
  • CCC 1046-1047: creation part of the new universe
  • CCC 2707: the value of meditation






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