Taking Our Soil Sample, 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A), July 11, 1999

Fr. Roger J. Landry
SS. Peter & Paul Parish, Fall River, MA
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
July 11, 1999
Is 55:10-11; Ps 64; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23

Today the Church invites each of us to take a soil sample of our soul. In the Gospel, Jesus presents to us four types of soil on which the seed scattered by God, God’s own Word, falls. And each of us today needs to ask, in light of Jesus’s words and in his very presence here at Mass, what type of soil really am I?

In farming, there are really two things that are crucial: good seed and good soil. In terms of the seed at question in our own souls, the seed Jesus talks about is the Word of God, heard in Sacred Scripture and in prayer, and ultimately God himself, the Word Made Flesh, capable of living in us through grace. Hence, there is no problem with the seed. The seed 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 we bear, therefore, depends solely on the soil, not the seed. It depends, in other words, on our response to the Word of God. How do we receive God’s word in our own lives?

Jesus in the Gospel lists four types of receptivity, or soil:

1) The first is the soil at the edge of the path, those who hear the word of God without understanding it. Jesus means much more than an intellectual comprehension. By understanding he means welcoming the Word — whether it be easy or difficult to understand — and trying to let it penetrate our minds and hearts. There are many people today who stand at the edge of the path, including some Catholics. People who absolute refuse to try to understand the Word of God proclaimed by the Church that abortion is a grave offense against God and against the human person. People who, no matter how many times they hear that God created each of us out of love, continue to be racists and claim to be justified in doing so, not just in Serbia, but here in the US as well. There are countless other examples we could name. The question for us, though, is how great an effort do we make to understand the Word of God, particularly when the Word of God challenges us to change our way of thinking or our way of life. If any of us does not make that effort, engage in that struggle, then Jesus is describing us at the edge of the path.

2) The second type of soil is thin and rocky. These people, Jesus tells us, hear the word of God and welcome it immediately with joy, but never make any effort to ensure that the seed takes root. Thus, when any type of persecution comes, Jesus says, they squander the seed as quickly as it took root. Jesus is here describing superficial Christians, those without any real depth. They love the consolations of God, often enjoy coming to Church, and really do love God, but they only love Him a little. They are not willing to make the effort to conform their lives totally to God, especially in inconvenient and difficult circumstances. If we’re honest, many of us fall into this category, at least sometimes. I can think of a father, for example, who knows that he shouldn’t drink, makes a prayerful resolution to say no and intends to keep it, but as soon as a drink is offered him outside of the presence of his wife and kids, he accepts it, rather than going through the minor difficulty of asking for a soda or a glass of water. Or of teenagers who hear the clear teaching of their parents and the Church that pornography is wrong and harmful to them, but once a friend pops in a videocassette that he knows he shouldn’t watch or opens up a magazine, he participates — and the seed is taken away. The point: We have to help the seed take root. God often will immediately send us trials and temptations, not to trip us up, but to give us the chance to make those good choices that will plant the seed even deeper.

3) The third type of soil is that found among thorns. Jesus says that these are those who hear the word of God but have the Word choked by the worries of the world and the lure of riches and other material desires. This person wants to hear the word of God, but is under the stranglehold of various thorns — inordinate desires and fears coming from his surrounding culture. We see this today, so often, among married couples, who hear the Word of God about their great mission of cooperating with God in bringing forth into the world and the Church sons and daughters, but who fear having children. Often they give in to the anti-children anti-culture surrounding us that looks at children not as one of God’s greatest blessings, but rather as a burden. Their desire to participate in the plan of the Creator is choked by the poisons of a culture that says falsely that the world cannot support the children, or that they really should put off children until both are settled in stable careers, with their dream house, multiple cars, and so on. This while so many other couples struggle so hard to have children. We could pick other examples as well, but I hope the point is clear: There are thorns everywhere in our culture, nowadays. And if we want to be good soil, we either have to move (by associating with different friends, for example) or eliminate the thorns from our midst (for example, by turning off the television if we have to). If we don’t, we risk losing the great treasure Jesus has planted in the field.

4) The fourth and last type of soil is good soil, which Jesus says refers to those who hear the word, welcome it, understand it and, very importantly, produce fruit. These are those who imitate good farmers. Farmers need to turn over their soil every year, to make furrows to plant the seed, to fertilize the soil, to water the crops during droughts and so much else every year to get good soil. Farmers of the soul need to do that, not just every year, but pretty much every day, and often several times during the day, to remain fertile for God’s life to sprout in them. All it would take to destroy a decent farm is for one barrel of of toxic waste to be dumped in it and seep into the ground. Good farmers of the soul need to be vigilant throughout the day, because the devil tries to tempt us, all the time, to allow him to dump such poison into the field of our souls, and sometimes even convinces us that such toxins are good for the soil. Good soil, Jesus says, produces abundant fruit in acts of faith toward God, hope toward his promises, and love of God and neighbor. Good soil produces lots of fruit, thirty-, sixty-, or a hundredfold; bad soil produces nothing, or worse, bad fruit, and just becomes overgrown with weeds and waste of the devil. If we’re not producing lots of fruit in cooperation with God’s graces, that means our soil is simply not good.

In conscience before the Lord today, we can evaluate the state of our soul and how receptive we really are to God’s word. But as Christians, we can’t stop there, merely with an evaluation. No matter where we find ourselves today — whether we’re good soil or soil at the edge of the path — Jesus calls us to become more or more receptive a soul, more and more a fitting dwelling place for God. Farmers have fertilizer, tools, and various techniques to make their soil good. What about a Christian? Christians have Jesus himself, who helps us to make ourselves good soil to receive ever more deeply the word of God and bear a great harvest. He gives himself to all of us through the sacrament of reconciliation, whereby faithful people come to the divine gardener who mercifully and patiently helps to take out all the weeds in our lives. He gives himself to all of us through the Word of God, which nourishes our minds and hearts. The Christian who prays each day, reflecting on the Word of God in Scripture and in tradition, speaking and listening to Jesus, becomes more and more fertile to receive the seed of God’s word.

But most especially, our soil, our soul, is nourished here at Mass, where we encounter the Seed, the Word of God made flesh. Jesus said that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will bear no fruit, but if it dies, it will bear great fruit. That seed, Jesus, fell to the ground three times on Calvary and then died on a Cross, but through his resurrection from the dead he not only saved all of us, but empowered all of us through, with and in Him to bear fruit, fruit that will last. But we will bear fruit only if we enter into this paschal mystery, by letting Jesus the dead-and-risen seed, germinate in us. We will bear fruit only if we die to ourselves in him, die to our sinful temptations, die to our chosen ignorance of the faith, die to all those things that keep us from him, so as to rise once again with him.

God created us free so that we might be able to choose to love him, because no one can ever be forced to love. But the flip side of freedom is responsibility for our choices. God has given us the responsibility of taking care of our spiritual lives, our spiritual farmland or field. With his help, we can carry out this task successfully. Let us begin right here, right now, to do that. Jesus has given us himself as our very food, our mega-fertilizer to nourish the divine seed of faith, to nourish us, all the way through this life unto heaven, where, please God, each one of us will come to the heavenly altar, in the presence of all the angels and saints, and hear Jesus say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant! I gave you one field to take care of, and you did it well! Now, as your reward, I present you as your inheritance not just a field, but, my beloved son or daughter, the entire kingdom of God!”

God love you!