But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being;" the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: "A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold." As he said this, he called out, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"
Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that "looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.'
"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance."
A divine potential simmers in the depths of each of us, something that Jesus compares to a seed, buried in the ground. Looking at the seed before it is planted, one hardly suspects what a flower will develop from it. The process by which the seed "dies" or disintegrates to be reborn cannot be rushed. It needs not time and a silent waiting within the dark, warm earth.
This links with what Paul writes about that part of us which is "subject to decay." Yes, we must die as people of earth, of body. It is not that this part is bad or useless, but only after the flower fades can the seed develope to its full potential. Our future self will be in continuity with our former self, as a new plant grows out of the seed, yet surpassing the old in unimaginable ways. Weakness is sown, and strength rises up. Paul's resurrection faith makes him the most optimistic of religion teachers.
Matthew's explanation of the Sower parable gives other pointers about life. As the seed, God's word, can fall on the footpaths and there be trampled down, so life's mystery must not be subjected to every person's advice and be easily subjected to anyone's opinion. If the seed is scattered on rocky ground where it cannot take root but quickly dries up, we must allow God's inspiration to sink its roots deeply into our lives and become a part of ourselves. Neither should the seed be dispersed amid briars, as it would be if we lose ourselves in a whirlwind pursuit of pleasure, and lose our taste for prayer, reflection and the self-denial which every mature person needs. Finally, the seed that falls on good ground and yields a plentiful harvest suggests how the grace of God must be thoroughly integrated into ourselves. The harvest depends on the quality of our lives over a long period of time.
Jesus knows that when a farmer sows seed in a field, not all of it takes root and produces a crop. Indeed a great deal of it goes to waste. Only some found the right soil and went on to provide a harvest. The seed is vulnerable; there can be all kinds of forces working against it. The environment is not always supportive of the seed. The same could be said of our life of faith. The seed of faith that is sown in our hearts at baptism is vulnerable. The environment in which we life is not always supportive of our faith. Trials can come our way and shake our faith. The worries and riches and pleasures of life can choke it.
We need to nurture the seed of faith that we have received. We have a part to play in providing the good soil that the seed needs. One element of such good soil is prayer, both our own personal prayer and the prayer of the community of believers. The reading makes reference to hearing the word and taking it to heart. That form of prayer in particular creates an environment that allows the seed of faith to grow, the prayer of real listening to the word of the Lord, the kind of listening that shows itself in how we live and how we relate to others. We are about to enter the year of faith. It is a good time to ask ourselves, what we can do to help the seed of faith we have received to grow to its full potential.