Today’s readings present the mysterious way that God leads us through this life. It says in the Gospel that Jesus “goes out of the house,” just as the sower goes out into the world to sow. Jesus, the Word of God goes out from His intimate dwelling – the Trinity – into the world created through Him and by Him. He is the word He speaks, and when we listen with our hearts He is the seed planted in our soul and the rain that waters it and gives it growth. This image is so positive and full of hope and life. He teaches us through parables that we must take care how we listen and receive His words – our heart is the soil in which the seed (the word) is planted and watered. St. Augustine reminds us that our hearts are all at different times and in different ways these different types of soil. Some days our hearts are the rocky soil – God’s Word bounces off and is scorched in the heat. Some days our hearts are shallow soil – we listen gladly to the word but don’t ponder it so it dies. Some days our hearts are good, but we have surrounded our lives with anxieties and worldly pursuits and experience a kind of suffocation – the little plant of God’s life is suffocating in our hearts. Perhaps this third situation is the one we have to be careful of most as we try to be in the world and not of the world. We will never be fully at home before heaven, so if we try to settle here permanently we will lose our sense of freedom and life.
God has very strangely planned to allow us to suffer. Even if you don’t like the idea and decide not to be Christian anymore, you won’t escape suffering. The suffering of this life, if we allow Christ to teach us its meaning, can actually prepare us for the next in an extraordinary way. When things are at their worst, and we think that we’ve never gone through something so terrible, St. Paul teaches us that it is actually stretching our ability to appreciate heaven. When things get worse, the extent to which our opinion of how much heaven must be better in order to compensate also increases.
For the rain and the snow do not return to heaven but accomplish in the earth the will of him that sends them. So the word that he shall send through his Christ, who is himself the Word and the Message, shall return to him with great power. For when he shall come and bring it, he shall come down like rain and snow, and through him all that is sown shall spring up and bear righteous fruit, and the word shall return to his sender; but not in vain shall his going have been, but thus shall he say in the presence of his sender, “Behold, I and the children that the Lord has given me.” And this is the voice through which the dead shall live. And this is the voice of God that shall sound from on high and raise up all the dead.1
THEODORET OF CYR:
We stand far apart from each other, as far as the heaven is from the earth. For you hate me, while I love you. You avoid me, while I call you. You fight me, while I work for your benefit.2
This exhortation relates to what we have just read, in which Paul shows that the things which we might suffer at the hands of the wicked here below are small in comparison with the reward which awaits us in the next life. Therefore we ought to be prepared for every eventuality, because the rewards which are promised to us are so great so that our mind may be consoled in tribulation and grow in hope.3
Do you dread poverty? Christ calls the poor blessed. Does toil frighten you? No athlete is crowned but in the sweat of his brow. Are you anxious as regards food? Faith fears no famine. Do you dread the bare ground for limbs wasted with fasting? The Lord lies there beside you. Do you recoil from an unwashed head and uncombed hair? Christ is your head. Does the boundless solitude of the desert terrify you? In the Spirit you may walk always in paradise. Do but turn your thoughts there and you will be no more in the desert. Is your skin rough and scaly because you no longer bathe? He that is once washed in Christ has no need to wash again. To all your objections the apostle gives this one brief answer: “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”4
When we see such extraordinary heirs of the heavenly kingdom suffering so greatly during the time of their mortal exile, what remains for us to do under these circumstances … except to humble ourselves all the more in the sight of our benevolent Maker and Redeemer, as we become more clearly aware that we cannot follow them by imitating either their lives or their deaths?5
It was not without a purpose that he “sat beside the sea.” The Gospel writer has expressed this in a hidden manner. The purpose of Jesus’ doing this was to order his listeners in a precise way. He wanted to see them all face to face. He left no one at a disadvantage at his back.6
The crowd is not of a single mentality, for each person has a different frame of mind. He therefore speaks to them in many parables so they may receive different teachings depending on their frame of mind. Further, it should be noted that he did not speak everything to them in parables, but many things. For if he spoke everything to them in parables, the people would go away without gaining anything. Jesus mixes what is clear with what is obscure, so that through the things they understand they may be drawn toward the knowledge of the things they do not understand.7
- DEMONSTRATIONS 8.15. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 189). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON ISAIAH 17.55.8–9. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 190). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON PAUL’S EPISTLES. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 214). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- LETTER 14.10. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 214). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 2.23. Bray, G. (Ed.). (1998). Romans (Revised) (p. 214). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 44.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 263). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 2.13.3. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 264). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
This was even better as a homily!