July 12-13 , 2008, Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary TIme, Cycle A
This passage from Isaiah that we heard as our first reading is one of my favorite in all of scripture. “My Word shall not return home void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” No matter how bad things seem to be getting, this truth about God gives me reassurance that God always has the last word, and it is a word of love and completion.
Paul reflects on the fact that sometimes this world seems so bad that it feels like all creation is groaning or crying out in pain. I suspect we have all felt like that sometimes: so bad that all we can do is cry out or groan from the depths of our being. It is hard to watch the news without feeling that way these days. So it is very comforting to know that God's word is about, moving this creation ever so surely towards completion.
Our gospel tells the same story in Jesus' usual fashion of casting the truth into a story that his listeners could relate to. As is the case with all his parables, Jesus uses very common and easy to understand images from his listeners' lives to illustrate the deepest truths about the kingdom of God. What is very interesting about this parable is that after telling it, he explains the images to his disciples in more detail, and urges them to understand what he is saying.
Living out here in Stow with St. Isidore the farmer as our patron saint, I would hope that most of us can understand the simple farming images that Jesus uses. But just as he teaches his disciples so that they understand his point even more clearly, it might help if we reflect a little on what those four soil types stand for today.
The seed that falls on the path is probably the most common situation in our culture. Many people have bought the lie that religion is not relevant to everyday life, or the God doesn't really exist, or that science somehow contradicts our faith, or that separation of Church and State means that we shouldn't even acknowledge our faith in any public discussion. This last lie is ironic in that its origin lies with the many so-called Catholic politicians who introduced it and continue to use it over the past 50 years. It is amazing to me that what seem to be intelligent people can voice such a self contradictory statement, and even worse, others accept it as valid. If someone is Catholic then they believe in truths that are true everywhere and for everyone. That murder is wrong is not a Catholic truth; it is true for everyone. The same for the truths that lying is always wrong, and that God exists and is involved in the world, and the God became human in Jesus of Nazareth. These are true always and everywhere. And for a Catholic who believes in these truths, they will shape everything that they think or do, including how they vote on legislation. For someone to say otherwise means either that they are not Catholic, or that they are lying. And yet it is an almost unanimous campaign statement by most self-proclaimed Catholic polititians.
All of this denigration of religion creates a hard shell over people so that there is that there is very little openness to the Word of God. People just don't have any reference point to begin to encounter Christ in their lives. So the Word cannot not even being to touch their lives.
The rocky soil is just a little removed from the hard impenetrable surface of the path. In our day and age, it represents those who have been exposed to religion in some way, maybe because their family of origin is religious and so they went to church and religious education when they were young but never made the effort to understand what their faith was all about as they grew older. And so when any crisis happens in their life or even in their church, they quickly wither away. They are the Catholics who think that just going to mass once in a while is being Catholic, who are afraid of reading scripture because they have never learned how, or think that our faith is a bunch of arbitrary rules imposed on people.
The seeds that fall among the thorns are those who get sucked up into the whirlwind of activities in our culture. It is the people who are so captured by their careers that they have no time for anything else, or even the families that engage in so many activities with their children that there is no time to learn more about their faith or even take the time to give thanks to God for all that they have. The good life chokes off their faith.
The good soil are those who take the time to learn more about their faith in an age appropriate way. They make time to pray each day. They live their faith in everything that they do at home, at work or school, and at play. They enter deeper and deeper into a loving relationship with Christ, and so all that they do moves this world closer to being a paradise, to being the kingdom of God here on earth.
The inspiring message of today's readings is that despite what seems to be the overwhelming majority of the first three soils, God's word is still the last word, and each person who opens to that word can yield 100 times more good than the ones that are represented by the path, or the rocky soil, or the thorns. Religion is not some irrelevant artifact of the past. It is the very stuff of moving this world away from the violence, and cruelty, and sickness, and environmental disaster that so fills our world.
I know that every parent out there hopes that the world their children and grandchildren grow up in will be a better world than what we see today. There is only one way that this will happen, and that is by bringing the kingdom of God more fully into existence in this world. Blessed are your eyes because you have seen it and blessed are your ears because you have heard it.
The word of God will prevail; this creation will eventually be paradise. I just want it now, for my children, and my grandchildren, and I hope you do to. Let us not be among those who look but do not see, or hear but do not listen or understand. Let us be those who bear fruit a hundred, or sixty, or thirty fold.