Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we open with the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah in which we will see a calling to respond to the Lord message before it’s too late. Then we will move onto the second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans and then close with an important Gospel lesson called the parable of the soils.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from Isaiah 55. The chapter opens with an invitation for everyone, even Gentiles (Isaiah 55:5) to partake of the benefits earned by the Suffering Servant in chapter 53 whom we know was the Lord Jesus. Isaiah said, “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost” (v. 1). Isaiah then went on to say some of the most often quoted verses from the Old Testament. In the verses immediately preceding today’s reading, Isaiah explained God’s invitation to salvation to everyone as well as an important insight into the nature of God.
6 Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. 9 "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9)
The Prophet emphasized the need for a person in the Old Testament to see the Lord before it was too late (v. 6), repent of their sin (v. 7a), trust in God’s ability to forgive sin (v. 7), and recognize their insufficiency and sovereignty of the Lord (vv. 8-9). Now let us move onto the reading that begins at verse 10.
10 "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Isaiah said that in the same way that the seasons are regular and reliable (v. 10) so it is that God’s Word is regular and reliable (v. 11). The rain and snow water the seeds and make them fruitful. Therefore, God’s Word operates in the hearts of His people through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-13) in order to make them fruitful. Later in the Gospel lesson, the importance of this principle will become evident in Jesus’ parable of the soils.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
Before we move onto the Gospel lesson and continue to learn the importance of listening to the Word of God and the operating upon what is says, we will move onto the second reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In this section, Paul emphasized the fallen condition of God’s creation in which both the creation itself and humanity are crying out for reversal of the curse brought on as a result of Adam’s sin.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:18-23)
Paul said that the “creation is groaning and [suffering]” (v.22) in labor pains along with our groaning while awaiting redemption (v. 23). The reward for our faithfulness in bearing fruit in our response to the Gospel message won’t be evident until our bodies are redeemed when we die and go to be with the Lord (v. 23). Until then our spirits groan (v. 23) and so does the fallen creation (v. 22).
Have you ever noticed how the sound of wind whistling through the trees is a way in which the creation groans as it awaits redemption? I remember one particular evening when I was deer hunting in the woods on my parents farm back when I was a teenager. As the sun was getting ready to set I crept along through the pine forest being careful to move upwind in order to surprise any deer that may be wandering about in the woods that windy evening. As I continued to move through the woods, I stopped for a long time and just listened to the eerie sound of the wind moving through the trees. Although I had heard the wind moving through the trees before for some reason that evening it took on a special significance. The sounds in the trees worked in an opposite way of a chord, they clashed in such a way as to leave a lasting impression upon me that evening. I was glad I was carrying a gun. “The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (v.22).
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
As we move onto the Gospel lesson, pause for a moment and imagine what it would have been like to sit at the feet of Jesus and not only hear his teaching but also have it privately explained to you. That is what happened in the Gospel lesson from Matthew 13 in Jesus’ famous parable of the soils. The context is just after the Pharisees scolded Jesus’ because his disciples had picked and eaten from standing grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:2). Jesus used this occasion to proclaim his Lordship, saying, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (v. 8). He then went on to offend the Pharisees even more by healing a man with a withered hand, an action that caused them to “[conspire] against Him, as to how they might destroy Him” (v. 14).
The parable of the soils in the reading today from Saint Matthew is also found in a parallel account in chapter 8 of Luke. This parable is unique from many of the others because in both accounts Jesus went on to explain the meaning to his disciples privately away from the crowds.
1 That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. 3 And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, "Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. 8 And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear." 10 And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" 11 Jesus answered them, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 15 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.' 16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. 18 Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. 20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty." (Matthew 13:1-23)
This parable focused upon the Gospel and the impact of it upon people’s lives. Jesus explained the parable to His disciples and then told them how they were blessed because their eyes were open and their ears have heard (vv. 14, 16). They were blessed because they had heard things for which the prophets waited. Saint Peter said about them that they were, “seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (1Peter 1:11).
Some people may ask one of two questions. First, why did Jesus guard the truth by speaking in parables? Jesus answered this in verse 13, “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Saint Peter shed additional light on this in his Epistle when he was teaching about the false teachers that he prophesied would come into the church and had been troubling the church:
For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:21-22).
Peter said that that it “would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them” (v. 21). Jesus taught in parables as a means of grace by reducing the amount of light given to those that would not respond to His Gospel message. On the Day of Judgment, everyone will be accountable to God for how they responded to and used the information that they had. Paul said, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). A half dozen other verses in the Bible say that we are judged according to our deeds, meaning the fruit which we bore with the knowledge we were granted. [For further information see the following: Job 34:11; Ps 62:12; Pr 24:12; Jer 17:10; Jer 32:19; Mt 16:27; 1Co 3:8; 2Co 5:10; Re 2:23; Rev 20:12; and Rev 22:12.] This is the meaning of the parable of the soils; we are accountable to what we have heard although only one of the soils produced any fruit. Three of them are what Jesus called the “broad road” (Matthew 7:13). Only the seed that fell on the good soil produced any fruit, and then the production was in different measures. Additionally, note that fruit bearing is evidence of salvation, not the cause of it (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Second, some have asked the question, What about the heathen in far off places that have never heard the Gospel, how will they be judged? [Hint: See Romans 1:19.] In this case, we need to set back, reconsider the question, and ask a different one. The question we should ask is what about us, what have we heard and what fruit have we born in response to the testimony of God’s Word in the Bible?
Saint John wrote about the differences between the unfruitful hearers and those whom responded to the Gospel by producing good works for the Lord Jesus:
9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:9-13)
Even though we work alongside the other types of soil, as believers in Jesus Christ we can rest assured that God will accomplish the good works that He began within us (Philippians 1:6). Our good works flow out of our faith in Jesus Christ. Though some will produce more than others (as we saw in the parable), each believer will produce something precious in the eyes of the Lord. As we saw in the first reading it’s important to act upon the information that we have been provided before it’s too late.
1. We read in the Gospel lesson the subject of fruit bearing of the four different types of soils. What would you understand “fruit” to represent? What are some worries or other distractions that make you unfruitful in your Christian life?
2. What are some fields in which you have the opportunity to sow seed?
3. Some have untaken the challenge of going about their lives as “soil testers” or “fruit inspectors.” Based upon what you have learned today why is such a “ministry” ungodly?