Whoever Has Ears Ought to Hear

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

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G. K. Chesterton is one of the most quoted Catholic writers of the twentieth century. He seems to have an applicable quote for every occasion. In his collection of essays, Tremendous Trifles, he writes, “The object of my school is to show how many extraordinary things even a lazy and ordinary man may see if he can spur himself to the single activity of seeing.”

Chesterton was not speaking about the physical act of seeing, but the inward act of understanding and appreciating what one sees. A small number of us are truly blind in the physical sense. Most of us have healthy eyes, but walk by amazing sights every day without really comprehending what our eyes are telling us. When we finally see the things we have been looking at all along, we might be inclined to pause, take a breath, and say, “Oh, I see…”

In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus tells us the Parable of the Sower. Some of the sower’s seed falls on the bare path where it is eaten by birds, some falls on rocky soil and cannot establish roots, and some falls among thorns which choke out their growth. But some of the seed falls on fertile ground and grows well. In each case the seed is the same; only the ground is different.

Jesus tells us that this parable describes different responses to hearing the “word of the kingdom” (Mt 13:19). Even though we all may hear the word of God, there are distractions that may prevent us from allowing the word to take root in our hearts and bear fruit. These are the world, the flesh, and the devil, represented here by the path, the rocky soil, and the thorns.

Jesus does not always take the time to explain the meaning of His words. A prime example would be the Bread of Life discourse in the sixth chapter of John, when the majority of His followers leave after being told they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. He says what He needs to say and then leaves it to His disciples (us) to hear Him and understand. But here He explains the meaning of His words in plain language. It is almost as if Christ is saying, “People will either hear what I am saying or they won’t. It doesn’t matter how plainly I explain it; if they are not really listening, they won’t understand.”

He quotes the prophet Isaiah: “They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” But to the faithful disciples, He says, “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”

The sower casts his seed upon all terrains, but only in some did it take root. Jesus speaks His words in public, for all to hear, but only some were willing to listen.  God offers the gift of faith to all, but only some are willing to receive it.

The Catechism defines faith as, “Both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God… and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed.” How can faith be a free gift from God but also something we humans have to do? Does God give faith only to some people and not others? If I am struggling with my faith does that mean God has’t given me enough? These are honest questions. It can be a bit confusing to be told that faith is a gift from God and at the same time our response to God.

This is where the parable of the sower helps. Just as the sower casts the same seed on all grounds, God gives the same gift of faith to all of us. But for the seed is to take root, grow, and bear fruit, it must have fertile soil. That is our part. The fertile soil is our act of faith, allowing God’s word to take root in our heart. There are many things that can keep us from doing that. We could not be open to hearing the word at all. We could hear it, but be anxious or fearful to fully open our lives to it. Or we could allow the many distractions of this world to crowd it out.

Everyone in the crowd heard Jesus preach this parable. But only a few understood because only a few were truly open to listening to the Word of God. Some were made deaf by cynicism, or concern for things of this world, or attachment to sin. Others were willing to hear the word of God and follow through, even if it meant a radical change in their lives. This is a necessary condition of faith — to be open to seeing what God is showing you, and hearing His word, and then following where He leads.

Open your eyes to see His beauty. Open your hears to hear His wisdom. And prepare your heart to be rich and fruitful soil, where His gift of faith can take root and prosper. For “the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold” (Mt 13:23).

G. K. Chesterton said it is amazing what ordinary people can see if they decide to start seeing. We can also say it is amazing what ordinary people can hear if they decide to start listening. Let us set ourselves to this task; the wonderful task of seeing and hearing the spirit of God active in our lives.