SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EX 20:1-17PS 18:8-11MT 13:18-23]

The law of the Lord is perfect,   it revives the soul.  The rule of the Lord is to be trusted; it gives wisdom to the simple.  The precepts of the Lord are right, they gladden the heart.  The command of the Lord is clear;   it gives light to the eyes.”  Indeed the law of the Lord is good. This is what the psalmist declares. The Ten Commandments offer us guidelines to wise living.  They help us to walk in the right path and in the way of justice and love. They are simple and based on truth.  “The decrees of the Lord are truth and all of them just.  They are more to be desired than gold,  than the purest of gold and sweeter are they than honey, than honey from the comb.”  Anyone can appreciate them.  They are founded on universal truths.  The last seven Commandments are based on the human conscience and instinct on justice.  Those who abide by these Commandments will have a happy life and a glad heart, free from guilt and blame.

Truly, the laws are the wisdom of God. Moses told the people how fortunate they were to have such a God!  “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today.” (Dt 4:6-8) 

Then why is it that we keep breaking the laws, just like the Israelites?  Jesus in the gospel says it is due to the lack of receptivity.  There are different depths of understanding.  But He was not speaking so much about the understanding of the mind but of the heart.  It has to do with receptivity.   What kind of soil are we?   Are the laws written on tablets or on our hearts?  Do we have an attitude of faith and docility?  The different depths of openness and understanding are illustrated in the parable of the sower.

The first level concerns understanding. “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.”  This concerns our conviction.  It depends on how convinced we are of what we hear.   The depth of conviction depends on understanding, not knowledge.  The latter must not be confused with the former.   Knowledge is merely information without conviction. Understanding involves the intellect grasping the truth and the heart perceiving as good.  Until that happens, there is no real understanding.

In this respect, understanding requires prayer, study and grace.  The most direct and easiest way to understand the bible is through a prayerful meditation on the scriptures. Of course, our prayer life is helped by a greater knowledge of the Word of God through Bible and theological study.  Whilst knowledge of the Bible is not essential for understanding, it helps greatly to understand the different levels of meanings in the bible, namely, the historical, existential and theological meanings.  Yet the ability to enter into the depths of the Word of God depends on the grace of God, the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

The mystical and spiritual meaning must be inspired by Him alone.   This is because, as St Paul says, “It is a wisdom that none of the masters of this age have ever known, or they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory; we teach what scripture calls: the things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him. These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God. After all, the depths of a man can only be known by his own spirit, not by any other man, and in the same way the depths of God can only be known by the Spirit of God.”  (1 Cor 2:8-11)

The second level of receptivity is affected by external factors that come from trials.  “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.”   This is because faith is not deep enough.  The lack of conviction means that in the face of struggles and trials, we forget the Word of God.  We have short memories of God’s love for us as in human love.  Like the Israelites, we forget the wonders He has wrought in our lives.

There are two reasons for this forgetfulness.  Firstly, the experience was not a depth experience and hence easily forgotten.  Unless it is a radical encounter with the power and grace of God, we tend to forget.  Secondly, we all have short memories for good things that have been done to us but have long memories for those hurting events in our lives.  We cannot forgive those who have hurt us.  Because of one serious failure on the part of our loved ones, we break relationship completely, forgetting all the many good things the person has done for us or had helped us in the past.  We need to see things in perspective and in proportion.  Hence, by recollecting the good things and beautiful events we have with the person who has failed us, we will regain confidence in that person.  So too by recalling those times that God has seen us through, we would then not feel so shaken by the trials of life, especially the painful events.  So it is necessary that we recollect often and pray over those events in the past so as to relish and appreciate His love and mercy.  Recounting His love and mercy like the psalmist is important to strengthen faith through gratitude for His love in the past.  It is for this reason that the Church invites us to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which is called Praise and Thanksgiving, so that praying the psalms, we remember His love for us throughout the ages.

The third level of receptivity is affected by the temptations of the world.  “The one who received the seed on 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.”  It has to do with our fallen nature.  We are sensual beings, not pure spirits.  Our body craves for food and pleasure.  We are afraid of pain and discomfort.  This is natural but it becomes unnatural when we lose control over ourselves.  This is the consequence of a fallen nature, when we suffer the loss of integrity, the fear of death, the aversion to pain and an unenlightened mind.  As a consequence, our spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.   The lures of the world come from a wounded nature, a weak body, a disordered will and a confused mind with shallow understanding.  This explains why the world is imposing their desires and preferences as the norm for constructing the new world order.  They are rewriting laws based even on nature to suit their selfish needs.  The new moral order is not founded on truth but on compromises and succumbing to the sensual, self-centered and individualistic needs of man.

How can we overcome the temptations of the world?  We need to cultivate discipline, the practice of mortification, penance, prayer and almsgiving, regular confession, and reception of the Eucharist.  But more than just discipline we need to pray for the gift of wisdom to see what is truly essential in life.  St Paul says, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.  Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2:12-16)  When we see and know what is truly good for us then we won’t pursue the illusory things of the world realising that they are means not the ends of our happiness.

Finally, we arrive at the final level of receptivity.  This level is attained through pure grace but with full human cooperation. “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.”  Indeed, this is the thrust of the gospel message of the parable.  Everything is pure grace.  Where the seeds will fall is grace.  When they fall is grace.  Furthermore, knowledge of the laws alone is not sufficient to help us live a good and wise life.  Laws are incapable of empowering us. They only tell us how to live and tell us when we are wrong.  Only God’s love can empower us. This is pure grace.  St Paul says, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life, I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”  (Gal 2:19-21)