24Jul 24 July, 2013. Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week

Exod 16:1ff. When they grumble about scarcity in the desert, God sends food in abundance.

Matt 13:1ff. The parable of the sower: the harvest depends on the condition of the soil.

First Reading: Exodus 16:1-5, 9-15

The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.'” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Perseverance has its Reward

Today we start a series of parables from Matthew’s gospel. A parable is a moral tale ending with a single punch-line that emerges in some way from the story yet by its quirky application often takes the reader by surprise. As we compare the same parable in different gospels, we see how each evangelist felt free to adapt these enigmatic tales.

Comparing the Exodus with today’s Gospel, we can distinguish two quite different ways by which God’s blessing comes to people: in Exodus, miraculously, by signs and wonders; in Matthew, naturally, by the farmer’s hard work. After leaving Egypt, the people began to murmur, first about the bitter water they had to drink (15:24) and now about the scarcity of meat and bread. They wouold have preferred slavery with plenty to eat, rather than freedom and dignity without material benefits. God responded with a miracle that was not just for the sake of the grumblers but for all future generations of his people, even to ourselves. The author of Wisdom saw the manna as symbolic of all God’s wonderful gifts “You nourished your people with food of angels and furnished them bread from heaven, ready at hand, unworked-for, dull of all delights and suited to every taste… (Wis 16:20-21).

On the other hand, the Sower parable shows another side of the picture: in our dealings with God we must play our part. Jesus describes the normal growth of wheat or barley including a method of planting that is quite different from ours today, but would have been familiar to his listeners. He emphasises the certainty of the harvest, with the good seed yielding “a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold.” This harvest excludes nobody from the kingdom. Whether with few or with many talents, all have a part. Not only does the natural process of sowing, growth and harvesting contrast with the sudden appearance of the quail and manna, but the parable insists on the virtue of waiting.

The Israelites in the desert wanted instant paradise and refused to follow the slow trek through Sinai with its austerities and deprivations. But every God-directed hopeful planting leads to a harvest – whether of a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold. Small or large, all will have been worthwhile.