An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Fifteenth Sunday of Year A, Matthew 13:1-9, July 10, 2011
When Luis Chavit Singson exploded the political bombshell more than a decade ago, accusing Joseph Ejercito Estrada of taking bribes from illegal gambling (jueteng) and tobacco excise tax, no one could have foreseen, least of all Estrada himself, that his presidency would end in ignominy. After all the citadel of his popularity seemed impregnable, the support of the urban poor bordered on fanaticism, the house of representatives was under his control, and he had the numbers in the senate. Indeed, not a few treated Singson’s disclosure was no more than a quarrel over turf. When former Sen. Teofisto Guingona accused Estrada in a privilege speech that prompted an investigation by the blue ribbon committee, many thought it was but another political exercise that would end nowhere, as in many of such investigations. Even the impeachment trial at the senate was viewed with skepticism. It being a political trial, Estrada had the certainty of being acquitted. But the fall-out from Singson’s revelation triggered a chain of events—however wary one was about them—leading to a bewildering conclusion that left political analysts standing agape. Estrada was whisked from office in a manner no one anticipated. At 2:30 PM of February 20, 200l, Estrada was flushed out of Malacañang, minutes before the crowd of anti-Erap rioters from Edsa could storm the presidential palace.
If initially no one ever thought that the Estrada presidency would end in the way it did, so probably no one among Jesus’ hearers believed that the word of the Kingdom, which he had been preaching, would ever succeed. This is the point of the parable of the sower, as Jesus told it. To see this point, we have to remove the allegorical interpretations that have been added by Matthew’s community to the story, considering that the original parable had only one point. If we are to discover Jesus’ intention, then, we have to limit ourselves to the earlier version of the parable (Matt 13:3-9). Although it is traditional to call it the parable of the sower, it is more descriptive of the story to title it as the parable of the seeds, for it is really about the seeds and their respective yield rather than the farmer or sower. Jesus told it in the context of the opposition to his ministry by the Jewish leaders and authorities. Many Jews rejected his preaching. Despite his sending of the apostles, very few believed in him and were converted. Would the proclamation of the word wind up with the establishment of the Kingdom of God that Jesus had been talking about? Many of his hearers, and probably even his disciples, were unconvinced that the kingdom would succeed.
It is in answer to this skepticism that Jesus told this parable. He drew his listeners’ attention to what happens when a farmer sows seeds. In Palestine, a farmer usually brings his sack of seeds to the field, where he liberally scatters them before plowing. Naturally, many of these do not reach maturity, because some are picked up by birds, others fall on rocky ground, still others find themselves among thorns. These bring no yield. But this does not cause him to be discouraged. Despite these failures, the farmer is confident that the seeds that grow on good soil will eventually yield a good harvest. Similarly, the preaching of the Kingdom may be frustrated. Indeed, many of the Jews did not heed Jesus; in fact, some of them brought him to the cross. For all his effort to bring them to conversion, their response proved to be disappointing. But Jesus was confident that with the few people who really heard his word and acted upon it (Matt 7:21), the Kingdom of God would become a reality.
What happened to the seeds—the coming of the Kingdom would be like that. Sometimes, people ask: Jesus came to establish the Kingdom, but after two thousand years, where can we find it? Where can we experience this reign of love and peace, of communion and justice? Have the First World countries shared their wealth with the Third World countries? The parable seems to say that the Kingdom of God cannot come instantly. Even as it develops, it undergoes various reverses. Take, for example, the search for peace. Probably there has never been a century that has not been marked by conflicts and wars among nations. And almost every effort at establishing peace knows its own setbacks. There have been many backward movements in the Mideast process, for example. And yet, we can point that it is only in the twentieth century that we can speak of a community of nations. It is only in this century that we can talk about the global village, of the consciousness that we are all one family. The road to such consciousness has suffered many upsets, of course, but who can argue that it is not a big stride? Surely, the Kingdom of God is in the process of being realized, for all the failures it has suffered. Dictatorships may recur, human rights may be abused, oppressive regimes may be established, but the Kingdom will surely dislodge them!
It is interesting to note, however, that the parable ends by saying that the seed that flourished brought forth a marvelous harvest—some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, others hundred-fold (Matt 13:8). It has been noted that this does not reflect the ordinary experience of a farmer in Palestine, for a normal return for a bushel of seed would any anywhere between seven and a half, and a return of ten bushels could be considered a good one. Thus, the hundred-fold harvest could be a fantastic one! But if this is correct, there would be a further assertion about the Kingdom. Since God alone can bring such a hundred-fold harvest, the marvelous yield is meant to indicate that the dawning of the Kingdom is ultimately God’s work! Of course, many scholars would disagree with this interpretation, by noting for example that there is nothing extraordinary about the hundred-fold harvest. Still, this interpretation is still consistent with the Gospel data about the coming of the Kingdom—it does not really depend on man’s effort in order to flourish and succeed, even though it is vital to the Kingdom. It is, in the end, a supernatural action. God alone brings about the triumph of the Kingdom—in a manner, as in the unseating of former President Estrada, no one envisages and in a way that is beyond human control or effort.