Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: the Grace of Faith

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

IS 55:10-11; PS 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14; ROM 8:18-23; MT 13:1-23

Our readings for this Sunday teach about the grace of faith: the gift that is God’s word, the gift of a heart open to receive it, and the goodness of faith.

The parable of the sower is worth endless meditation, but is straightforward enough that we needn’t dwell on the basic point:

“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,” etc.  There is a nice progression, from the word never sprouting at all, to it sprouting, but without roots, to it having roots, but being choked out by “worldly anxiety and the lure of riches.”

Notice that even in the first case, it is “sown in his heart.”  The question is how deeply into our heart it goes, and whether we let it bear fruit.

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But let us also notice the paragraph that becomes between the initial parable and its explanation. “The disciples approached him and said, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’”  In fact, this parable answers the question of parables in general.

“This is why I speak to them in parables,” Jesus tells them, “because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Faith goes deeper than just hearing.  It goes into our hearts.  Every word Jesus speaks is like a parable.  Whether you understand it depends not just on whether you hear it, but on the state of your heart.

“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.”  The deeper issue is love: not just going to Church, but loving Jesus enough to hear his word, and let it penetrate into us.

There’s a kind of parallel, between the huge crowds who listen to Jesus on the seashore vs. the few disciples who come near to hear the explanation, and the different kinds of soil in the parable.  Unless we come near, lay our heads on his heart, we won’t know what any of it means.

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The two other readings take us deeper into two aspects of this Gospel teaching.

Jesus says, “Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.”  The key word here is “granted.”  It is a gift.

The reading from Isaiah is also about the word “that goes forth from my mouth.”  But here he says, “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. . . . My word shall not return to me void.”

In the parable in the Gospel, it sounds like it’s up to us: we are the ground who receives his word.  But in Isaiah, it’s all up to him: it’s his word itself that makes the earth fruitful.  His word is powerful, effective.

The two parables of the word reflect the two sides of grace.  We are really transformed, so that we hear and understand – but it is he who transforms us.  Our hearts must be truly receptive – but it is his grace that makes us receptive.

Faith is a grace. It’s not just because we tried harder than other people – or rather, we try harder because he gives us the grace to try.  Thanks be to God, not to me!

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But in the Gospel, he also says,  “lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.”   Understand, be converted, and be healed.  This part of the reading shows that through faith comes healing.

The reading from Romans emphasizes that all creation “awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.”  Even our bodies wait, and grown, “for adoption,” and for “the redemption of our bodies.”

These are two different things.  First, the spiritual thing: by the word we hear, we are converted, healed, made sons and daughters of God.  Second, our bodies are redeemed.  The point here is, everything in creation, especially everything in our humanity, longs for this.  Conversion through faith even heals our bodies – whatever that could mean!

The grace of faith converts us, heals us, makes us children of God.  This is the greatest joy.

How could I better lay my head on the heart of Jesus and ask him to open the Scriptures to me?

eric.m.johnston

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