15th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A

A boat, shore and the parable of the sower

Matthew 13:1-23

The picture is an illustration of the parable of the seed and its explanation. For the sake of brevity I limit myself to these two aspects of the text of today.

13:1     That same day, Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeside,
13:2     but such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat there. The people all stood on the shore,
13:3     and he told them many things in parables. He said, 'Listen, a sower went out to sow.
13:4     As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up.
13:5     Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up at once, because there was no depth of earth;
13:6     but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and, not having any roots, they withered away.
13:7     Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
13:8     Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
13:9     Anyone who has ears should listen!'
            [-]
13:18   'So pay attention to the parable of the sower.
13:19   When anyone hears the word of the kingdom without understanding, the Evil One comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the seed sown on the edge of the path.
13:20  The seed sown on patches of rock is someone who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy.
13:21   But such a person has no root deep down and does not last; should some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, at once he falls away.
13:22   The seed sown in thorns is someone who hears the word, but the worry of the world and the lure of riches choke the word and so it produces nothing.
13:23   And the seed sown in rich soil is someone who hears the word and understands it; this is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.'

Context 

This parable and its explanation are part of the 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, the so-called ‘discourse of parables’. This is the third of the five discourses Jesus gives in this Gospel. The first time Jesus was sitting on a mountain and preached to his disciples (5:1-2). The second discourse was directed to twelve people to explain how they should behave when they were sent among the people (10:1-42). This time Jesus is speaking to the crowds. They are so many that he even needs a boat from where he is speaking.

The parable of the sower is an illustration of this situation. The sower sows his seeds upon the fields just as Jesus is sowing his word in the hearts of those who listen to him on the shore.

It is a parable about ‘the mysteries of God’s Kingship’ (13:11). If so, then there is a big surprise in this parable. God is only king if people recognize him as such and do what He commands them to do. Does Jesus suggest that God’s Kingship is dependent on my reply? If I say (and do!) yes to his commandments..., if I ‘produce crop’: there God is king indeed. But when I don’t, then God isn’t king.

A boat, shore and the parable of the sower

In the front of the painting, I see Jesus – in red – preaching in the boat. There are listeners around him. The content of his preaching is pictured around this scene. I see Jesus again outside the boat, his arms widely spread in the direction of the people before him.

In the bottom right corner the content of the parable: the seed that is sowed respectively on the edge of the path, where birds are picking it up...; on patches of rock where the seed is drying out...; among the thorns where the seed is choked...; and at last on the rich soil where the seed is transformed into richly filled ears of corn.

In the bows of the boat, parallel to these places where the seed ends up, I see human behaviour corresponding with the image of the seed. Parallel with the seed which is picked up by the birds I see how people are behaving badly. And so on... The main colour on the side of the seed (on the right) is the same as the main colour on the corresponding side of the human behaviour (in the bow on the left).

It is a pleasure to look at all these people and to discover how they are behaving according to the story of the seed and the sower.

I take the time to contemplate it. To see if I am somewhere in the picture. Or I ask myself where my place would be. I keep in mind that what Jesus tells me and what the artist is making visible takes place in the invisibility of my heart. My behaviour speaks of what is going on in my heart. My deeds are speaking of the choices I made in my heart...

I look at my life and my everyday behaviour: is it an expression of my heart?

I have a talk with one (or more) of the pictured people; and finally with Jesus.

Dries van den Akker SJ