During this Lenten season, the Prince of Peace community is using the devotional book "The Parable of Lent", by Dean Nadasdy. Occasionally, I will be taking the Bible passage for the day and adding my own reflections to it.
Reflections on Matthew 13:23
23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (NRSV)
This verse is part of the parable of the sower; however, it is not in the story of the sower, itself, but rather in Jesus’ sidebar explanation of the parable to the disciples. Jesus told the story of the sower to the great crowds who had gathered around him. The Gospel writer Matthew relates that after the disciples heard Jesus’ story, they asked him why he spoke in parables. In part of Jesus’ answer to their question, Jesus related that he spoke to the crowds in parables is because ‘they see but do not perceive and hear but do not listen or understand’. Jesus tells the disciples that they have been “given to know the secrets of the kingdom”, and that their ears are blessed “for they hear”. Jesus then proceeded to relate the parable of the sower to listening and hearing.
I have to wonder what went through the disciples’ minds when they heard Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower. I wonder if they thought, ‘wow, now it all makes sense, I should have realized right away that Jesus was talking about the Word of God when he spoke about sowing seed.’ I wonder if the disciples felt just a little pride and wonder, when Jesus told them that their ears were blessed because they could hear. Or I wonder if they got a little nervous, thinking ‘I’m not sure I can live up to Jesus’ expectation that I can hear and understand what he says.’ We, modern day disciples, probably share some of both the wonder and the questioning that the disciples felt.
“What was sown on good soil, that is the one that hears the word and understands it and bears good fruit”. How difficult is it for us to hear the Word of God? When the Bible is read aloud, we can hear the Word, but let’s face it sometimes it is hard to understand. Sometimes there are conflicting messages in the Bible. Sometimes our understanding is occluded by our unfamiliarity with the customs of the time in which the Bible was written. Sometimes we can’t put the meaning in the context of our own lives. Really hearing God’s word is hard work and it is best done in a community setting. Hearing the Word in a Christian community helps to place the meaning in the context of our own lives, and discussing it with other Christians helps to keep us from developing our own personalized or secret meanings.
Even when we successfully hear the Word, the bearing fruit part adds another dimension to the hearing. The fruit of hearing the Word is to share the Word, and to live out the meaning in our own lives. None of this is easy! The support of a Christian community, which worships and prays together, shares fellowship together and strengthens one another is a key part of successfully bearing fruit.
In a paraphrase of the words of one of my favorite hymns, may your heart be good soil, and may you hear God’s word and bear fruit.