Hear the parable of the sower.
It looks as if the framers of the lectionary 0f the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer used the Gospel this Sunday for target practice. As you can see, if you look at the bulletin, they removed verses 10-17 of the 13th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. I have never been one to see a conspiracy behind every reading in the lectionary. But it does make you wonder. The basis of the 1979 Prayer Book lectionary was the modern Roman lectionary, which appoints all the verses Matthew 13: 1-23 or as a shorter version Matthew 13:1-9. If they had simply wanted a shorter reading they could have used the abridgement in the Roman lectionary. I am afraid that I am like a teenager for whom an R-rating on a movie is a guarantee that he will have to see the movie. If the Episcopal Church does not want me to read it, I had better read it. It turns out that the presence or absence of the censored verses completely changes the meaning of the passage.
First, let me summarize the missing verses. The disciples ask Jesus “why do you speak to them in parables?” A pretty good question, it seems to me. But the answer Jesus gives is surprising and shocking, even if you are not a partisan of the politically correct:
To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
Of course it might just be that they wanted to make things easier for the preacher. But the easier thing about the edited gospel is that it does not have Jesus challenging one of our most cherished political principles, namely equality. Jesus is being unfair. Never mind the fact that he is not talking about politics or economics; he is talking about ‘the secrets of the kingdom of heaven’. But the reason Jesus has to explain the parable to his apostles in private, away from the crowd is precisely because the crowd will think he is talking about politics and economics.Or even worse they will realize he is not talking about these things but should be.
Two things we need to remember: 1) St. Matthew is writing his gospel primarily for the Jews; 2) the illusion of the Jews, an illusion which would only die hard, was that Jesus was a political liberator. This is the issue which is never very far from the minds of the writers of the New Testament and which is always front and center in the Gospels: “we had hoped” the disciples say on the road to Emmaus, they had hoped that Jesus was the political messiah, the champion of the oppressed against the Romans, a new and improved King David. The apostles themselves, forget about the crowd, had barely been delivered from this way of looking at Jesus and it would be only with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus that they would finally get it. Many modern Christians, the peace and justice crowd, still do not get it.
The parable of the sower is the first prediction of the Cross and the harvest, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, hundredfold, as Fr. Knox interprets it, is “the harvest of the Cross”.
The seed that falls by the wayside represents minds and hearts so hardened that they will not even hear what Jesus says; Pilate, the soldiers, the impenitent thief, the indifference of believers and as well as unbelievers. Those who pass by for whom Jesus in nothing. “Hard hearts, not broken hearts, are the tragedy of the world” again Msgr. Knox teaches.
The seed that falls on stony ground refers to those who are attracted by Jesus but whose faith is too shallow to withstand the withering sun of the Cross: curiosity seekers and dabblers hoping for miracles and something sensational who fall away when the earthly rewards are withdrawn.
The seed that falls among the thorns are those in whom the word of Christ has taken root only to be choked by the securing and protecting of riches, worries, the pursuit of pleasures and the avoidance of suffering and pain. Judas rules this part of the garden and his rejection of Jesus means ultimately the rejection of himself, the final self-indulgence.
The trampled path, the stony ground, the thorns produce no harvest; it is only the rich compost of the Jerusalem garbage dump into which is planted the Cross that bears fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, hundredfold.
Thirtyfold for those who abandoned Jesus, Peter and the other apostles who know their weakness and so depend upon Jesus all the more. Jesus warned them in the parable.
Those who bring the harvest of sixty fold and hundredfold are those who stay near the Cross of Jesus: Mary Magdalene, St. John and Our Lady. The Magdalene from whom Jesus removed false and demonic love, loves with real love at the foot of Cross. St. John who learns the glory of the Cross so that he may pass this knowledge on in his gospel. Our Lady unites her will with the will of her Son, as indeed she had always done, but never so completely as she did ‘at the cross her station keeping”.
Three barren and unproductive soils and three bountiful harvests: of Mary Magdalene’s emotions, St. John’s mind and Mary’s will, the goal and end of knowing and loving Christ Crucified, but only if having eyes you can see, having ears you can hear.
Hear the parable of the sower.
The fans of Fr. Knox will recognize once again my debt to him and also to Ronald Knox as Apologist: Wit, Laughter, and the Popish Creed by Milton Walsh for his summary of Fr. Knox’s interpretation of the parable of the sower.