You’re probably familiar with the parable of the sower and the seed in Matthew’s Gospel. The farmer scattered seed on a path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and on good ground. All the seeds sprouted, but only those on good soil survived.
The parable makes the proclamation of God’s Word look very arbitrary and unpredictable. If the parable is an accurate description of how God’s Word is proclaimed and received, what are we to think about those for whom the Word doesn’t flourish? Are they merely tragic accidents along the route to the kingdom of heaven? Matthew’s Passion Narrative provides examples of each group of seeds in the parable as well as an explanation of the differences between the groups.
Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus presents himself as the prophet of a renewed Covenant between God and God’s People. Some people ignored his preaching. Others were offended by it. Still others welcomed it. Among those who welcomed Jesus’ preaching, there was a further distinction between those who remained faithful to Jesus and those who did not. All are represented in the Passion Narrative.
Matthew’s Passion Narrative begins with Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus. Judas was a trusted member of the group of Jesus’ closest friends, but something turned him away from Jesus. The remaining Eleven were carried along with the tide of events until they, too, turned against him.
The religious leaders in Jerusalem had always considered Jesus to be a threat. In order not to have to worry about what Jesus would do at Passover, they decided he must die before the feast began. Like St. Joseph, Pontius Pilate had a prophetic dream about Jesus. Unlike Joseph, Pilate was too cowardly to follow the promptings of the dream.
In the end, only a few remained faithful to Jesus. Two women in Jesus’ company stayed with him until his death, and Joseph of Arimathea provided him with a tomb. The meaning of the parable is complete on the Cross.
The religious leaders from Jerusalem are the seed that fell on the path; they heard Jesus’ teachings, but their self-righteousness prevented them from believing in him. The disciples are the seed that fell on rocky ground; they were inspired by Jesus’ teachings but grew fearful and discouraged when they faced persecution because of their discipleship. Judas, Peter, and Pontius Pilate are the seed that fell among thorns; their personal concerns and desires prevented Jesus’ teaching from taking root in their hearts. The few who remained faithful to the end are the seed that fell on good ground; they found strength and consolation in Jesus’ teachings, even in the midst of sorrow and loss.
All the people mentioned in the Passion Narrative heard Jesus’ teaching, but not all reacted the same way. Each one’s reaction was the result of what she or he held most precious. Those who prized their respectability rejected Jesus. Those who were filled with concern for their personal comfort turned their backs on him. Only those who believed him to be the One who would institute a renewed Covenant with God persevered until the end. The various outcomes in the parable of the sower and seed were not random or unpredictable; they were, in fact, accurate reflections of those who heard the Word. Those few who remained with Jesus until the end were the ones who produced the abundant fruit of faithfulness.
The author of the Gospel intended for every reader of the Gospel to identify with one or more of the characters in the story. Which of the characters in the narrative of Jesus’ Passion do you identify with? You might want to spend time during Holy Week reflecting on the effects of God’s Word in your life. The effects of God’s Word are never arbitrary or unpredictable. Those effects are as easy to perceive and understand as the actions of the groups of people who were first witnesses to Jesus’ suffering and death.