Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gospel for Jan 24, Memorial: St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor

From: Mark 4:1-20

Parable of the Sower. The Meaning of the Parables

[1] Again He (Jesus) began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. [2] And He taught them many things in parables, and in His teachings He said to them: [3] "Listen! A sower went out to sow. [4] And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. [5] Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; [6] and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. [7] Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. [8] And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." [9] And He said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

[10] And when He was alone, those who were about Him with the Twelve asked Him concerning the parables. [11] And He said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; [12] so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven." [13] And He said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? [14] The sower sows the word. [15] And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown; when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which is sown in them. [16] And these in like manner are the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; [17] and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. [18] And others are the ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word, [19] but cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. [20] But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold."

1-34. Parables are a special method of preaching used by Jesus. By means of them He gradually unfolds before His listeners the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Cf. note on Matthew 13:3. Chapter 4 of St. Mark, although much shorter, is the equivalent of chapter 13 of St. Matthew and chapter 8:4-18 of St. Luke, which is the shortest synoptic account of the Kingdom parables.

1-9. The ordinary Christian, who seeks holiness in his ordinary work, must be moved to find how often our Lord uses in His parables examples taken from work situations: "In His parables on the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ constantly refers to human work: that of the shepherd (e.g. John 10:1-6), the farmer (cf. Mark 12:1-12), the doctor (cf. Luke 4:32), the sower (cf. Mark 4:1-9), the householder (cf. Matthew 13:52), the servant (cf. Matthew 24:25; Luke 12:42-48), the steward (cf. Luke 16:1-8), the fisherman (cf. Matthew 13:47-50), the merchant (cf. Matthew 13:45-46), the laborer (cf. Matthew 20:1-16). He also speaks of the various forms of women's work (cf. Matthew 13:33; Luke 15:8-9). He compares the apostolate to the manual work of harvesters (cf. Matthew 9:37; John 4:35-38) or fishermen (cf. Matthew 4:19). He refers to the work of scholars too (cf. Matthew 13:52)" (John Paul II, "Laborem Exercens", 26).

3-9. With the parable of the sower Jesus wants to move His listeners to open their hearts generously to the word of God and put it into practice (cf. Luke 11:28). God expects the same docility also fromeach of us: "It is a vivid scene. The Divine Sower is also sowing His seed today. The work of salvation is still going on, and our Lord wants us to share that work. He wants Christians to open to His love all the paths of the earth. He invites us to spread the Divine message, by both teaching and example, to the farthest corners of the earth [...]. If we look around, if we take a look at the world, which we love because it is God's handiwork, we will find that the parable holds true. The word of Jesus Christ is fruitful, it stirs many souls to dedication and fidelity. The life and conduct of those who serve God have changed history. Even many of those who do not know our Lord are motivated, perhaps unconsciously, by ideals which derive from Christianity."

"We can also see that some of the seed falls on barren ground or among thorns and thistles; some hearts close themselves to the light of faith. Ideals of peace, reconciliation and brotherhood are widely accepted and proclaimed, but all too often the facts belie them. Some people are futilely bent on smothering God's voice. To drown it out they use brute force or a method which is more subtle but perhaps more cruel because it drugs the spirit--indifference" ([St] J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 150). The parable of the sower also shows us the wonderful economy of Divine Providence, which distributes various graces among men but gives each person enough to reach salvation: "There was then in the eternal providence an incomparable privilege for the Queen of Queens, Mother of Fair Love, and most singularly perfect. There were also for certain others some special favors. But after this life the sovereign goodness poured an abundance of graces and benedictions over the whole race of mankind and upon the angels; [...] every one received his portion as of seed which falls not only upon good ground but upon the highway, amongst thorns, and upon rocks, that all might be inexcusable before the Redeemer, if they enjoy not this most abundant redemption for their salvation" (St. Francis de Sales, "Treatise on the Love of God", Book 2, Chapter 7).

11-12. The Kingdom of God is a mystery. If the Twelve know it, it is simply because the mercy of God has revealed it to them, not because they are better able, by themselves, to understand the meaning of the parables.

Jesus' use of parables had many advantages: firstly, because typically the human mind grasps concepts by first working on sense-information: in His teaching Christ often clothes spiritual things in corporal images. Secondly, Sacred Scripture is written for everyone, as St. Paul says: "I am under obligation ...both to the wise and to the foolish" (Romans 1:4): this meant it made sense for him to put forward even the deepest truths by using comparisons--so that people could more easily grasp what he meant (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, "Summa Theologiae I", q. 1, a.9).

The disciples are distinguished here from "those outside" (verse 11)--an _expression which Jews applied to Gentiles, and which Jesus here applies to those Jews who do not want to understand the signs which He performs (cf. Luke 12:41).

Later on, our Lord does give His disciples even more exact instruction about the content of the parables. But, since the Jews do not want to accept the signs He performs, in them are fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah (6:9-10). The parables, which were an _expression of our Lord's mercy, were the occasion for His condemning incredulous Jews, whose sins He cannot forgive because they do not wish to see or listen or be converted.

17. "They fall away": they are "scandalized": the word "scandal" originally refers to a stone or obstacle which could easily cause one to trip. Here, in the language of morality, it is used to refer to anything which leads others to commit sin (cf. note on Matthew 18:1-7). The word is also applied in a broader sense to anything which could be an occasion of sin--e.g. sorrow and tribulation. In this passage, falling away or being scandalized means being demoralized, stumbling, giving in and falling. If a person maliciously professes to be shocked by a good action, he is guilty of "pharisaical" scandal: that is what St. Paul means when he says that the cross of Christ was a stumbling-block to Jews, who refused to grasp that the saving plans of God were to be effected through pain and sacrifice (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23; cf. also Mark 14:27; Matthew 16:23).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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