Looking beyond ourselves

Each of us, no matter how long or short the years, has known success as well as failure. We have all had to deal with failure—where the best we had to give simply wasn’t good enough, where what we did or tried to do fell short of our hopes, our dreams, our expectations; where good intentions led us ultimately to bad results.

Sowing Seed

We are creatures, created by God; frail, incomplete, and unfinished creatures. We are, by our nature, inherently deficient and wanting, inescapably vulnerable, subject to failure, disappointment and pain. And yes, we are subject to the wages of sin; no one is perfect, no one may righteously throw a stone at another, for no one is without sin. We acknowledge as much when we pray the Confiteor, when we confess to Almighty God and to all our brothers and sisters that we have sinned through our faults, thoughts and words, in our actions and in our failures.

As the late Jesuit, Father John Kavanaugh once wrote,

Such is the pain of the earth. Yet the sufferings of time, Paul writes, are nothing compared to the glory revealed in us. There is futility in our being only if our being is all there is. The flower fades and droops. The once young body one day sags and then lingers long. Flesh hardens first, then melts away, corruptible, slave to space and time. And yet we glory in it, and rightly so. God does as well. This paltry flesh, like all creation groaning longs for finish, completion, and rest. Such is the glorious agony of our condition.

We, like the earth that gives birth to us, are subject to the great inexorable laws of rise and decay. We are fundamentally good, we are things that grow; and yet because we grow, we lack.1

We are not only unfinished in our being, but in our nature as well. We have been gifted by God not only with life, but with self-awareness and free-will, endowed with the freedom to affirm or reject the limited good within us.

Humans might utter, “Yes.” They might also say, “No.” God’s final risk was to give us the freedom to choose, knowing from such an unfinished creation there would come not only the glories of love but the disasters of moral evil as well.

Here is where the parable in today’s gospel illustrates how different our individual responses might be to the Word of God. Here also, Pope Saint Gregory the Great, one of the four great doctors of the Western Church, believed that the seed represented the Word of God, the field was the world, the birds, demons, and the thorns, riches.

On the last point he asked if anyone would believe

… that thorns stood for riches? After all, thorns are piercing and riches pleasurable. And yet riches are thorns because thoughts of them pierce the mind and torture it. When finally they lure a person to sin, it is as though they were drawing blood from the wound they have inflicted. …Riches are deceptive because they cannot stay with us for long; they are deceptive because they are incapable of relieving our spiritual poverty. The only true riches are those that make us rich in virtue.

Therefore, if you want to be rich, beloved, love true riches. If you aspire to the heights of real honor, strive to reach the kingdom of heaven. If you value rank and renown, hasten to be enrolled in the heavenly court of the angels.2

There is, of course, another way of looking at the parable: Jesus is the sower, the Word made flesh; we are the seed. Jesus sows in our hearts his word, impregnating us so we can germinate and grow.

For some, there is hearing but no understanding. These are those who fall on the hardened paths of life, unrooted, landing where they fall, easy prey for the evil one who steals away what was sown in their hearts.

As Gregory warns us:

Be careful, then, that the word you have received through your ears remains in your heart. Be careful that the seed does not fall along the path, for fear that the evil spirit may come and take it from your memory.

Then there are those who hear his word with great enthusiasm and joy. Their faith is superficial, unable to develop deep roots because the ground beneath their feet is nothing but rocks.

They follow, but only as long as the road is easy. When difficulties arise or they are threatened with ridicule or persecution, their faith withers and dies, and they quickly walk away.

Again, Gregory says,

Many people are pleased with what they hear and they resolve to undertake some good work, but as soon as difficulties begin to arise and hinder them they leave the work unfinished.

The stony ground lacked the necessary moisture for the sprouting seed to yield the fruit of perseverance.

Still others choke when they fall among thorns. They hear the word of God and believe, but find themselves lured away by the siren call of worldly riches and possessions. They believe they are like gods and that they can achieve any and all things on their own.

We can all recall the story of the rich man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-31). When Jesus told him to go, sell what he had and give to the poor, he went away sad, for he was possessed by his many possessions. He was a seed which had fallen among the thorns of his self-idolatry and his possessions. Such seed cannot grow, will not grow, and can therefore bear no fruit.

Then there are those who fall on fertile soil, they hear the Word of God and take it all in. They admit to their own limitations, to their incompleteness and their unfinished creaturehood. “They embrace the limit of life, the gift of being good but not God. They cherish the gift of dependence as creatures. And they bear fruit …”

But why did Christ not simply speak plainly to all those who came to listen? Why speak in parables which require explanation? If God can give the gift of knowledge, why not to everyone? Why conceal it in parables which only some can understand? Sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing. For example:

There are some who find mathematics or biology or chemistry or nuclear physics easily understandable. Unfortunately, many, like myself, have difficulty adding two numbers and getting the correct result. I once read that there are an infinite number of incorrect answers to 2 + 2, but only one correct answer. I still have problems figuring out which is the correct one.

No amount of genius could force knowledge of higher mathematics into my math-averse brain because I simply am not, nor will I ever be ready to receive it. To force knowledge on someone who isn’t ready to receive it with any understanding is both cruel and a complete waste of time and energy.

Jesus spoke in parables because not everyone who came to hear him was ready to become a disciple. Although some were not ready to receive him, they could still learn something, no matter how little or how much, from his parables.

Jesus however is not the only sower, for he left the sowing to his church and his disciples. And we are members of his church, disciples called to sow good seed wherever and whenever we can. Sowing the good news is never easy. Like the sower in the parable, the seed we sow often falls on inhospitable and barren soil, upon rocks and among thorns.

As we heard in the first reading from Isaiah:

Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Jesus did not return to the Father until he had achieved all he had been sent to do. We are sent to do the same.

We are called to sow the best seed we have, lettings God’s sun, wind, and gentle rains do the rest. A sower freely and generously sows the best seed, the word of God. Such seed leads to eternal life and is offered to all people, not just some chosen few.

Amen.

Homily #131
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 55:10-11
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23


1 John Kavanaugh, SJ, The Problem of Evil, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.
2 Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies 1, 15. 1-2, 4.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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