Readings: Jeremiah 3:14-17; Jeremiah 31:10-13; Matthew 13:18-23
Finally, Jesus gives an interpretation of the parable of the sower. This interpretation is simple and well-known. The text from Isaiah which he quotes between the first telling of the parable and this interpretation speaks of seeing, hearing and understanding. It refers to different levels of appropriation of the presence and action of God - one can look but not see, listen but not hear, one can receive the word but still fail to understand.
The first reading today, from Jeremiah, speaks of how things might reach the heart or fail to reach the heart. This is the concern of the parable also. The word by the path, on the rocks, and in the thorn bushes, has the potential to bear fruit since it is the word of the kingdom, the Word of God, but for different reasons it fails to reach the heart. Only the seed that falls on the good soil, that is seen, heard and understood, bears fruit. It is seed that has reached the heart, has taken root there in knowledge and understanding, and so bears the fruit of the word.
'I will give you shepherds after my own heart', the Lord says through Jeremiah, shepherds who will help to find a way through the hardness of heart that prevents the word from bearing fruit. Later Ezekiel will carry it one step further, saying that the Lord himself will come to shepherd his people: he will give up altogether on human shepherds, it seems.
But the goal is the same in all these texts: to see how the word of the kingdom might find its way through the hardness of heart which is the final and most resistant obstacle to its flourishing. Heart wants to speak to heart (it is the motto of Saint John Henry Newman, cor ad cor loquitur) but the human heart is often blind, deaf, and closed to the appeal of the Word.
A salutary exercise for us is to meditate on what aspects of modern life prevent us seeing, hearing and understanding the Word of the Kingdom. Many of these obstacles are as ancient as human nature itself but there are surely some particular challenges in the times in which we are living.
What are the birds that whip away the seed before it begins to grow?
What is the rocky terrain that gives it a false start, growing quickly for a bit but soon perishing?
What are the thorn bushes - riches and distractions - most likely to suffocate the Word now?
Above all what are the things that harden our hearts, that lead us to close them down, prevent us from seeing clearly and hearing accurately, and so prevent us entering into the knowledge and understanding which alone will give us freedom, joy and conviction?