The root of the message offered in today’s Gospel is what is foundational to beginning and continuing as a disciple of Jesus. This being the disposition of our hearts. Are we closed to receiving the message of the Gospel, or are we open to embracing the invitation of Jesus to become more active in living out our faith in our everyday life?
The exchange of Jesus with his disciples in today’s reading from Matthew comes after his sharing of the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1-9). In this parable, Jesus offers scenarios regarding the conditions of seeds sown. Some fell on a hardened path, some on rocky ground, some fell among thorns, and some fell on the rich soil. The seeds in the first three settings were not able either to germinate or come to full maturity. The seed that was sown in rich soil was able to germinate, sprout, mature, and bear fruit.
As disciples, we are meant to bear fruit. That means our beginning step to preparing rich soil is to have an open heart and mind to the message of the Gospel. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we can quickly assess when our hearts are hardened and our minds are closed. When someone makes a statement, do we immediately judge it before the sentence is even completed? If we are in touch with our emotions, are we aware of the tenseness of our body and our shortening of breath? Think back to some times when we have reacted in this way, think of some times when we have had similar reactions in prayer, or when we feel God leading us to serve in a particular way, or when a scriptural passage piques our interest and we ignore it, read on, or close our Bible. How about times when a person interrupts us with an issue, or we see someone in need and keep walking and while we walk away with feel the angst of guilt.
The good news presented in the above examples is that we are alive and our conscience is somewhat intact. Our soil may be on rocky ground, there may be some weeds and thorns, but at least there is some soil. The most difficult state and the one Jesus addressed in today’s Gospel is the heart of indifference that is closed, the seed falling on the well-trod path, that is hard and packed so nothing gets through. For these people, “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand” (Mt 13:13). Yet, even this soil can be broken open and tilled. Even the hardest heart can be softened if one is willing to turn to Jesus. If we are willing to dig, we will encounter, but can then remove stones and rocks, and loosen the rich soil to make it good for planting.
Jesus, in his explanation of why he spoke in parables, returned to the inaugural message of his ministry: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). To be a disciple of Jesus we need to be willing to repent, to acknowledge the places in our hearts and minds that are closed, those areas that are hardened from real or perceived past pain or trauma, those situations in which we choose to shut down and separate ourselves from God and others. When we allow Jesus in, we can experience his healing touch. By risking to reach out in this way for help, we can begin to heal. As we do so, we can begin to hope, to care, and to love.
Being a disciple means that we will make mistakes, we will not be perfect, we will be hurt, betrayed, and experience the injustice of this world. But if we trust in Jesus, are willing to learn from our mistakes, return to him for healing and confession, our hearts will soften and our minds will open.
We will come to experience that we are not alone, that we have not been abandoned, that there is hope because there is a way forward, there is a goal we have to attain, which is to enter into the process of becoming true to who we are and who we are called to be. We will also begin to experience our interconnectedness with one another. When we come to realize that we are not alone, that we are not an island in a sea of people, that we are loved, we may be more willing to hear other people’s stories, be more understanding of their struggles and trials, and maybe begin to have eyes to see and ears to hear our brothers and sisters that have been beside us all along. Instead of being a part of the problem, we can then begin to be part of the solution.
Photo: Breaking ground for a garden at St. Philip Benizi in Belle Glade