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42. Seeking a Fertile Heart (Matthew 13:1-23)

July 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Meditations, The Better Part

“While the Lord was calling me, all the world’s pleasures stood nearby. As though holding deliberations with a friend, my mind pondered what course to take, which to abandon. Thanks be to you, good Jesus, who, moved by the holy entreaties of your servant, broke my bonds and cast upon me the bonds of your love.” – St. Hilary of Arles

Matthew 13:1-23: That same day, Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeside, but such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat there. The people all stood on the beach, and he told them many things in parables. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up straight away, because there was no depth of earth; but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and, not having any roots, they withered away. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

Then the disciples went up to him and asked, ‘Why do you talk to them in parables?’ ‘Because’ he replied ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to you, but they are not revealed to them. For anyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. The reason I talk to them in parables is that they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding. So in their case this prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled: You will listen and listen again, but not understand, see and see again, but not perceive. For the heart of this nation has grown coarse, their ears are dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, for fear they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and be converted and be healed by me. But happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.

‘You, therefore, are to hear the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path. The one who received it on patches of rock is the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy. But he has no root in him, he does not last; let some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, and he falls away at once. The one who received the seed in thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the word and so he produces nothing. And the one who received the seed in rich soil is the man who hears the word and understands it; he is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.’

Christ the Lord There is power in the words of Christ. Immense crowds press upon him. Christ was attractive to so many. Clearly, if he roused them to a revolution, they would follow; if he led them to storm a city, they would rally; but instead he invites them to change their hearts, and they do not understand him. Christ’s Lordship is real (“many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see…” – i.e., Jesus himself, the Lord), but he wields it gently; he refuses to bully us into following him. He was the “sower” of the parable, and he remains thus until today. His Church continues to plant the seed of truth, but never forces hearts to welcome it.

Tthe sower for post on Matthew 13:1-23his combination of eagerness to win over disciples but respect for his listeners’ freedom is especially evident in Jesus’ use of parables. Some interpret this tactic and his quotation from Isaiah to mean that he uses these stories and comparisons to conceal his meaning from his opponents, but there is also another way to look at it. When someone refuses to accept the plain truth, you sometimes have to take a roundabout way to convince them. In his parables, Jesus offers his listeners a chance to accept certain truths in the abstract, before perceiving how those truths apply to them personally (this is what the prophet Nathan did with King David after his sin with Bathsheba – see 2 Samuel 12). It’s a way of sneaking uncomfortable truths through his listener’s mental defense mechanisms. In this way, he may be able to penetrate indirectly minds that have closed themselves to direct proclamations. Even his parables show how wise and loving is the Lord.

Christ the Teacher We are free, but we are not alone – numerous factors compete for our freedom’s attention.

We are free to hear and heed God’s saving word. He offers it to us (he sows the seed), gives us plenty of chances to listen to it and put it into practice, but he respects the freedom that he has endowed us with, and leaves the response up to us. Nevertheless, we do not exercise that freedom in a vacuum. The devil (again, Jesus affirms the devil’s existence and continues to warn us about him), our own selfishness, and the world’s attractions contend with one another to seduce our freedom. When we welcome Christ, our lives bear abundant fruit – meaning, purpose, joy; when we hearken to other voices, our lives are barren, perhaps filled with pretty briars and brambles, but empty of any lasting achievement or value. As Jesus says later on, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He wasn’t exaggerating.

Christ the Friend Jesus does not leave us by ourselves to fight against the devil, the world, and our own selfishness. He wants us to hear him, so he explains his parables – to his Apostles. Jesus comes to us through the many ministries of his Church, built on the foundation stones of the Apostles (cf. Ephesians 2:20, Revelation 21:14) and their successors, the bishops in union with the bishop of Rome. And he assures us that when we are willing to receive his truth and grace, he will give us more and more (“for anyone who has will be given more”). Here again the Church instructs us, through the example of the saints, the ones who have received that “more.” Still, despite the Church’s endurance and growth through the centuries, which proves her divine origin, so many “ears do not hear, and eyes do not see.” How it must pain his heart to watch his seed wither away! Let us, at least, keep rich and ready the soil of our hearts.

Christ in My Life Do you know how much I long to share in your wisdom, Lord? My mind is full of so many questions, my heart is so restless – I want to be closer to you, to live in your presence, to discover you and your loving, saving action in every event of my life, in every person I know. Open my ears to hear your voice, Lord; open my eyes to see you…

Jesus, you compare my soul to a garden, or to a farmer’s field. Your word has taken root there, but that doesn’t mean that I can coast along. Gardens need tending. Weeds crop up every day, every hour. The soil, the birds, the elements… Jesus, help me know myself better. Show me what is choking your grace. Give me the strength to root it out. And give me constancy to continually tend the soil of my soil. I want my life to bear fruit that will last…

You didn’t give up when they refused to understand you. You kept teaching, you kept trying to win them over, to save them, to convince them, to love them into your Kingdom. Make my heart like that. I believe that you are the Savior, the Light, and the Way. Only you have words of eternal life. Teach me to be your faithful ambassador. Never let me give up on the souls you have entrusted to my care. Reach out through me to save many souls…


PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art for this post on Seeking a Fertile Heart: Matthew 13:1-23: The Sower, Winslow Homer, wood engraving appearing in Scribner’s Monthly Volume XVI, 1878 – 08, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • LizEst

    Hmmm. One thing, though, the birds don’t attack the mustard tree. The mustard seed grows in order that the birds of the air can make their nest there. It gives them shade. God does help us fight against what the world wants.

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