In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time – he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.
When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, Jesus 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!"
When his disciples asked him what this parable meant, Jesus 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."
First Timothy urges us to respect those secret stirrings of new life as God's command to us. Our truest self, not yet visible, is like a divine word of command. To know ourselves we must be attuned to our deepest hopes and desires. Then we are charged to keep God's commands faithfully. If we ask "for how long?" the answer is simply, "until Jesus Christ appears." These secret parts of ourselves will outlast all trials and be the source of our new existence. We dare not deny or compromise this mystery which is our very self.
Matthew's explanation of the parable of the sower gives us further 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. 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.
In the parable of the sower and the seed, not all of the seed 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.
Each of us has 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.