FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
The scope of God’s salvation is endless, extending as it does into the eternity where God’s plan of salvation was crafted. Although God’s plan surely has its fulfillment in Jesus, it began before the seas and mountains were created. Then, when “God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gn 2:7), creation was waiting, as our second reading states, “with eager expectation [for] the revelation of the children of God” (Rm 8:19). With the birth of Jesus that revelation, long awaited by the prophets, was revealed. Jesus is the One who set creation “free from [its] slavery to corruption,” in order that we might “share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rm 8:21). We await the “redemption of our bodies,” armed with the Scriptures which begin with the creation of the very land which is the foundation of Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel passage. Those Scriptures also nourish us with the very words of our Redeemer, enshrined in four gospels. It is not just to those who were gathered by the Sea of Galilee that Jesus speaks, for He also speaks to us, encouraging us to be the best soil, soil that is good, and rich, and productive.
The parable that begins Sunday’s gospel is surely familiar to most. It forms the first nine verses of our gospel (short form), and it was most likely used by Jesus in the way He generally used all His parables – alone, without an explanation, without the question of why He used parables at all. Most parables were meant to provoke the listener to think about what He had just said. They didn’t need a precise explanation because Jesus wanted His listeners to think, to draw their own conclusions, and arrive at an explanation that made good sense, or at least an explanation that gave them some insight into the Kingdom of God. Jesus wanted His listeners to have “ears that ought to hear;” He wanted those gathered around the boat, and us, to ‘listen’ and think about the parable and where it leads us.
The parable would assuredly lead most of us to the explanation given at the end of the gospel, but it doesn’t, without thought, lead us to fill in the blanks or elaborate on the story. If perhaps we think that the seed “sown in our heart” has fallen on the “path,” why did we put it in a place where it could be trampled under foot or eaten by birds? And if “the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in [our] heart,” why did we let him in, and under what form did he assail us? Was the Word taken away by pride, arrogance, deceit, or simply a lack of charity? Did we make the effort, spoken of in the explanation, to truly “understand” what the word was or how important it is?
The seed, which is the “Word,” broadcast by the sower also falls on “rocky ground,” where it never has a chance to flourish because there is no nurturing soil. Preachers and pastors are entrusted with the responsibility of sowing the Word, and they are charged with opening up the Word that God has shared with us. Do we allow that Word to take root after “receiving it with joy,” or do we allow it to go in one ear and out the other, because it doesn’t jive with our world view, doesn’t challenge us to leave a world where we are most comfortable, or perhaps the priest is just asking for too much? When the “tribulation or persecution” arrives that the Word may bring – standing up for what is right, risking the friendship with neighbors, offending a family member – do we “immediately fall away” for lack of roots?
The third example needs little or no explanation: “the seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” Who among us has not had such an experience? I suspect our preoccupation with the things of this world has often kept us from living the Word to its fullest.
My point is, don’t listen to the parable’s explanation without taking the time and the energy to genuinely assess our own relationship to the Word of God. That Word has been shared with us from the moment that God took on human flesh, and over countless centuries, and even today, that Word is broken open and shared with us with one explicit purpose – that it might bear fruit in being shared with others. We are so privileged to bear the name of Christian, since it is meant to connote our special relationship with the Word of God. As Jesus tells us in the gospel, “many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” It is up to us now to hear the Word that God has spoken to us, and to nourish it, and cultivate it, creating within ourselves the richest of soils, that the Word might flourish and bear fruit, “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”