Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V. July 12, 2020
“Listen! A sower went out to sow.” Thus begins the wonderful series of parables told by the great teacher, Jesus of Nazareth – stories which, two thousand years later, are still being told as we gather to be formed by Jesus, who is the Greatest Story ever told! As we gather in the midst of this blistering heatwave, how are we challenged by this parable: the story of a generous Sower, of soils of varying receptivity, of the promise of an abundant harvest?
Our first reaction may be to ask ourselves: "Gee, I wonder what kind of soil I am?" And on hot days like we've been enduring this summer, we may feel like the soil scorched by the sun. When we are going through troubles or trials, we become aware of the thorns and rocks that seem to get in the way of God’s love from really taking root in our lives. And then there are those moments – thank God for them! – that we actually do begin to see some results from our work, from God at work in our lives. Then we can relate to the seed that, against all odds, sprouted and brought forth a rich harvest.
The problem with identifying too quickly with any one of the types of soil, is that we miss the central point of the parable: that it is God who sows, and it is God who gives the harvest. We tend to think of things in terms of what WE have to do: preparing, sowing, waiting, reaping. Jesus tells this parable to teach us how the Word of God takes root in our hearts and in our lives, and of God’s desire that we may bear its fruit in abundance. This doesn't happen overnight, and that’s where we come in. As the farmer must go through the process of clearing the land, tilling the soil, sowing the seed, fertilizing, watering, weeding, and most of all, waiting patiently, before the harvest is ready, so too are our lives with God.
The problem is that we expect to see results immediately. Many families this year have begun the practice of starting a garden, since everyone has to stay home! In the spiritual life, we are often like the child who, having just planted a vegetable seed or a flower bulb, comes back 15 minutes later looking for results – and seeing none, then wants to pull it up by the roots to check "how it's doing?" We laugh at this – and yet, with respect to the Word of God and its own taking root in our lives, we are often just as impatient as these novice gardeners. We expect instantaneous results. We fail to realize that every aspect of our life is in a constant process of becoming, and that at each stage of our life, we need to be open to growth, development, and change. And in this time of pandemic, as so often we are tempted to want things to get back “to normal”, we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of a “new normal,” in God’s own time.
We may be very impatient for harvest-time. But we can't skip the steps. Jesus reminds us that it isn't sufficient to just hear the word of God; it needs to be welcomed, understood, integrated, appropriated; it needs to take root in us, so much so that we ourselves become rooted in it. It must become so much a part of my life that I turn to it for strength and inspiration, in good times and in bad. It is a life shaped by the word that eventually yields a fruitful harvest – one that comes in God's own time and in God's own way, which may not necessarily be our own.
In a later parable about a field sown with both wheat and darnel, a choking weed, Jesus says that “the seed is the Word of God, Christ is the sower.” The seed sown in us, the seed we are invited in turn to sow generously, is not an ideology, or a promise of moral purity, or the sense of belonging to an exclusive group. “The seed is the word of God”: not just my own word. God's word is there to console and comfort us, but as Jesus suggests, it is also a Word that shakes us out of complacency, that calls us to conversion, that challenges the choices we make in our life, that invites us to live with integrity, in generous service of others. To welcome God's word is not just to shape it to suit my own purposes; it is to be captivated by it, to allow it to help me overcome my biases, reform my prejudices, give me a new and fresh way of looking at the world.
This is why Jesus taught in parables. We are mistaken if we think of Jesus’ parables as nice stories with suitable morals, a Godly version of Aesop's Fables. The wisdom of parables goes well beyond stock human wisdom: for they often turn our expected responses upside-down. They invite us to really open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, to a new way of thinking, a new way of understanding reality: God's way, the way of the Kingdom: a challenge to the ways of our world. They give no easy answers, but force us to question many of the assumptions about the world, and about God, which we so easily take for granted.
Think of some of Jesus’ most well-known parables. To the assumption that foreigners are to be feared and mistrusted, Jesus responds with the story of a Good Samaritan, a social reject and a heretic, who goes out of his way to help someone who had ostracized his people. To a patriarchal society, which saw God as harsh and judgmental, Jesus responds with the love of the Prodigal Father, willing to overlook his son's betrayal and rejection, out of joy at his return. To those who think humility means denying or burying your gifts, Jesus responds with the parable of the talents, an invitation to take a risk, to develop our gifts and let our light shine.
So as we celebrate our Eucharist today, let us pray for the grace to be open – really open – to the Word of God. A word which, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “shall not come back empty, but accomplish that which God purposes.” May that word not go simply in one ear and out the other, but may it take root in us, accomplish God’s purpose, and bear fruit in our lives, and the lives of those to whom the Lord sends us.
“The seed is the Word of God, Christ is the Sower: all who come to him will have eternal life.” Amen.