Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
July 14, 2002
Is 55:10-11; Ps 64; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23
1) Today’s Gospel is about our relationship with God, which simply is, whether we admit it or not, the most important reality in our lives. The elements of the parable are rather clear, as Jesus himself explains. God is the sower who goes out to sow the seed. The seed is the Word of God, which certainly means the word spoken by God, but also means the Word of God Incarnate Jesus Christ. The soil refers to our receptivity to that seed sown by God the Father. Our whole life on earth and eternity can be summarized by this parable, because the whole point of human life — the ultimate reason why we’re here — is to respond in love to God. Whether our life is truly successful in the final analysis or a waste depends on how much fruit we bear in response to the gift of God in our lives, in creating us, redeeming us and trying to guide us to eternal salvation. Hence this Gospel is crucial for our eternal destiny. As Jesus says so directly, “whoever has ears to hear ought to hear!”
2) In farming, there are really two crucial elements, good seed and good soil. In terms of the seed at question in our own spiritual life, the seed Jesus talks about is the Word of God, which is perfect; it doesn’t have the least defect. The prophet Isaiah describes this in the first reading, when God says to the prophet “the word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.” The Word of God does its job. The question about what fruit any of us bears, therefore, depends solely on the soil, not the seed. It depends, in other words, on the RESPONSE to the Word of God.
3) Jesus describes that there are four types of response to the Word of God. It behooves us to understand them because Jesus is describing our response and those we know. He’s giving us all the tools to take a soil sample of our soul, to understand our own response, so that, if we fall into any of the three categories of defective response, we might till the soil of our souls to become good soil, which is receptive and fruitful. What are the four categories?
4) The first is soil that falls at the edge of the path. There was no hot-top or concrete in the ancient world. The roads and the paths were walkways with dirt. Over the course of decades the dirt on the path would become packed down and tremendously hard. Seed couldn’t penetrate this type of packed down soil. Who are these people? They’re the ones who are “hardened,” who are already set in their ways, who think they know everything they need to know, who have no receptivity at all to the word of God. Jesus says they hear the word of the kingdom without understanding it and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. These people are very common. They’re not necessarily evil, but they’re the type of people whose habits, or set ideas, or prejudices prevent the deep penetration of God’s word, because God cannot get through to them. They won’t allow God to change them. I had a conversation with someone at a recent wedding rehearsal. At the end of a wedding rehearsal I always hear the confessions of the couple and the members of their wedding parties who need the sacrament. And so many of them do. Even though they haven’t been to Church in years, even though sometimes they’ve been committing all types of sins, they still somehow think that they can come to receive the Lord in the Sacrament of the Eucharist without first going to receive his forgiveness in the sacrament of confession, which is a sacrilege, but one that is common. I ask the couple to encourage the members of their parties, especially those they know who really need the sacrament, to come. Well, at this wedding rehearsal, there was a young girl about 12 going around and saying, beautifully, with a smile, “Everyone who wants to receive Holy Communion the following day who hasn’t been going to Church needs to go to Confession.” At which point the father of the groom said, “No, I don’t need to go to Confession. I confess my sins straight to God.” The little girl then looked up so confused. Normally I wouldn’t embarrass someone publicly, but that man was teaching something absolutely wrong to that little girl, so I went up to them and said, “No, sir, actually the little girl is right and you’re wrong. On the day he rose from the dead, Jesus himself sent out the apostles to forgive sins and in order to be sure you’ve received his forgiveness for your sins, you have to go to the priest.” I explained to him gently some of the passages of Sacred Scripture about Confession. He just simply said at the end, “Well, I don’t think you have to go to confess your sins to a priest.” He didn’t care what Jesus said. He didn’t care what the apostles did. He didn’t care what the great saints have taught. This is the type of soil that’s hardened, that’s unreceptive to the word of God. God can’t get through. What can these people do? More on this later.
5) The second type of soil, of receptivity, is that sown on rocky ground. Jesus was not refering to soil with some pebbles in it. In Palestine, there are parts of the country in which there is a layer of dirt a few inches thick over a solid layer of limestone. When the seed is sown here, it immediately takes root and begins to germinate because the sun warms that soil very quickly, but as soon as the roots try to go deeper in the soil, they hit the rock and die for lack of nutrients. Jesus says that these are those who “hear the word and receive it with joy.” But because of the lack of roots, whenever some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, the person falls away. We see this type of person very often during Lent. People will come on Ash Wednesday, they’ll hear the appeal of the Lord calling them to come back to the practice of the faith, they’ll respond initially to this call and have every intention of following through on it and living a good Lent, but then it becomes hard to keep their good resolutions and they just stop. Several other people have told me, when I encourage them to be faithful to God in coming to Mass every weekend, that they feel so much better every time they come to Mass and put God first in their lives. They tell me every time they leave, they have every intention to come back the following week. But then something seems to come up, they say. These are the people Jesus is describing. They’re not bad people, but the soil is very thin and lacks depth. What can these people do? More on this later.
6) The third type of soil, or receptivity, is the seed sown among thorns. Jesus says this refers to those who hear the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. Unlike those along the path, the seed gets planted. Unlike the rocky soil, there’s every possibility for these people to bear good fruit, because their soil is deep. But Jesus says these people don’t bear the fruit that God wants either. Why? Because there are weeds and thorns in the soil, which compete against the good seed and choke it out. Oftentimes we can think that these weeds and thorns would be sin, which would certainly choke the word of God, but Jesus doesn’t say it’s just sin. He says “worldly anxiety and the lure of riches.” In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says “they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life.” There’s nothing wrong in itself with riches, when we use them for God’s kingdom. There’s certainly nothing wrong with pleasure. God made some things pleasing. There’s certainly nothing wrong with caring about things and others. But whenever we allow any thing, even if it be a good thing, to take the place of God in our lives, it becomes a thorn and chokes our receptivity to God. We all see this very often. There’s nothing wrong with work and certainly there’s something right about wanting to provide for one’s family. But when we allow these cares to allow us to choose to work instead of coming to Mass, it’s a thorn. There’s nothing wrong with sports. In fact, sports are great. But when we allow our kids to play soccer or baseball instead of coming to Mass, it’s a thorn. There’s nothing wrong with watching television, listening to the radio, playing the piano, going to a movie, talking to friends, etc., but when we allow these things to take away from the time we need to pray every day, then they can become a thorn. What can people with this type of soil do? Stay tuned.
7) The four and last type of soil, the one good type of soil to which the Lord refers, and which he wants everyone of us to have, are those who hear the word of God and understand it, bearing fruit a 100, or 60 or 30 fold. There are three steps. The first is hearing the word of God. We have to listen to it. Especially when we come to Mass, we need to pay attention, but we also need to pay attention to the word in Sacred Scripture, in silent prayer, and in the actions of the day. Many people don’t listen when they come to Mass. Here at ES, many people come to a Mass in a language they do not understand very well. Others almost never open up the Bible, to hear God speaking to them live. That’s the first step to bearing good fruit. The first group of people, the soil along the path, don’t even really hear, they don’t pay attention. We first need to do this. Secondly, we need to understand it, to let it take root, to let it sink deep. That means certainly we have to pray about it, we have to go to those places where we can comprehend it better, like the parish Bible Study or to decent books explaining what Jesus means. This is something that the second group, those on rocky soil, generally do not persevere in doing. They respond initially with joy, but they don’t act on their good resolutions to follow through, to find out more, to hunger for this. The third thing we have to do is bear fruit. It’s not just hearing and understanding what we hear. It’s allowing what we hear and understand to change our lives forever, leading to bearing fruit in acts of love for God and for others. This is something that many in the third group, those among thorns, do not do. They hear the word of God, understand it, know what they should do, but they just don’t do it. Sometimes they even want to do the right thing, but they just don’t pull the trigger. We’ve got to choose to order our whole life, everything, around the Word of God we hear and understand. God will help us to do this, but the choice is ours. So no matter where we find ourselves now, the Lord makes clear the path to good soil, soil that bears fruit. It begins with hearing the word of God, tuning God in. Then it’s making sure we understand it, what God is saying and what he is not saying, because he has the words of eternal life. Then it’s choosing according to what we know.
8 ) There’s one other thing I would like to note about this parable, especially as we begin our parish Renew program this Fall. This is not just for our own personal renewal, for the renewal of all our fellow parishioners. About a month ago, Fr. Jim asked you to think of five people in particular for whom you would pray and whom you would invite back to participate in this renewal. We’ve been praying every day at daily Mass for them as well. We would ideally want all of these people to come back. The reality is that not everyone will. That’s not because of any defect in the Word. The Word, God, is perfect. It’s not because of any defect necessarily in us sowing the seed of God’s word and inviting someone back. We might do it as well as we can with the Lord’s help. But it might be because of their soil. They might be too hardened, or too superficial, or too concerned with pleasure, riches or worldly anxieties. We cannot control their soil. The Lord does call upon us, however, to try to plant the seed. Some people will respond well and be part of the Lord’s harvest of the just. The Lord promises us that in the Gospel. Some people will have the ears to hear, some won’t. But let’s just keep planting that seed. We’re receiving that seed of the Word of God at this Mass, taking it within, trying to let it sink deeper. Just like a plant, we hope to bear great fruit with the Lord. And every fruit produces further seeds that are planted. These fruits, acts of love, are the greatest and deepest seeds we can plant in others, because actions speak much louder than words. As we receive Jesus the Word of God, in Sacred Scripture, and bodily in Holy Communion, we ask him to till the soil of our souls so that his life might sink so deeply in ours that we might bear abundant fruit, fruit that will last into eternal life, fruit that will be the seeds of the word of God in the lives of those we love. Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear!