The Soil God Wants, Third Wednesday (I), January 28, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor
January 28, 2015
Heb 10:11-18, Ps 110, Mk 4:1-20

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  •  Today Jesus speaks to us in one of his most important parables, which indicates for us not only something crucial for our own growth in faith and discipleship but one of the most helpful things to console us when we seem objectively to fail in the apostolate. He describes himself as the Seed of the Word, he talks about the sowing of the Word, and then about the soil that receives the Word. The Seed is indefectible; the sower scattering the seed may do everything effectively; whether fruit is born, however, depends on our receptivity and others’. Today is an opportunity for us to ponder this more deeply.
  • Jesus uses not just this parable but every parable to bring into the light the receptivity of those who hear him. When he was asked by those with the apostles why he spoke in parables, he said, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, ““The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that ‘they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.’” Jesus uses parables because it exposes whether those listening are hungry to grow in truth. The parables require some work to understand them and especially to understand their application by analogy to the things of the life of faith. There are some — we could say, some with the first three types of soil Jesus will say later in the Parable — who won’t really put in the work to grasp them. They’ll look and see but not perceive, hear and listen but not understand precisely because they don’t think they really need the truth of the parable at all or enough to justify the effort. They don’t really think they need conversion, they need saving, they really need that word. It’s only those with good soil, who hunger for the truth, who will put in the effort to decipher the meaning of the parable and live by it. They’re the ones who will struggle, together with God’s grace, to hear and listen in order to understand, to see and perceive.
  • That brings us to the actual parable Jesus preaches us today that will help us to understand this reality more deeply. The first thing we need to grasp to understand this parable is how farming was done. In Jesus’ day, farm plots were long and thin and there were paths between them on which the farmers and all pedestrians would walk. Sowers would just scatter seed everywhere and it would land in various places. Then the farmers would go and try to turn over the soil — rather than turning over the soil and then planting, as we do today.
  • Jesus describes four types of earth that the seed of his Word and work falls upon. The first is soil along the path. In Jesus’ day, farm plots were long and thin and there were paths between them on which the farmers and all pedestrians would walk. Over time, they’d be packed down and hard and the seed couldn’t penetrate them and the birds would come and eat the seeds. This refers to those with stubborn soil, who are not receptive to God’s word, either because they’re inveterate sinners or because they think they already know what they need to know. Jesus says, “As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them.”
  • The second type of soil are those that are “rocky ground,” where there is “little soil.” These refer to those who are superficial. In the Holy Land, many areas have a thick layer of limestone a few inches beneath the surface. It keeps all the water within those three inches and so at first a seed will sprout up immediately, but because of the limestone, the roots can’t go very deep and when the not Middle Eastern sun arises, it desiccates the soil quickly and scorches and withers the new plant. Jesus says these are the ones who “when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. But they have no roots; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” We find this soil in those who listen to the Word looking to “learn something” or to “be entertained” or to “like” it, rather than to have their life changed by it. These are the ones who will discard it as soon as the going gets tough because they were receiving it only for their pleasure rather than as a life-saving rescue. These are the ones who won’t do the work to drill down through the layers of limestone so that the roots of faith will be solid and will remain even in the midst of storms.
  • The third type of soil is thorny soil, which chokes the growth of the seed such that it produces no grain. This is otherwise good soil, but there are other things growing in it that not only steal the nutrients but also choke the growth of the good seed so that no fruit comes. Jesus describes that those with this type of soil “hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit.” Notice that thorns are not described as sins, which obviously can be poison for the growth of the seed of God’s word, but rather “anxiety,” “lure of riches” and “craving for other things.” If we’re preoccupied with something, or drawn to some god or pleasure of our own making more than we are to God, then obviously God’s seed won’t grow, even if the soil would be able to be fruitful. If we’re worried about a loved one’s health, or if we are really thinking about breakfast, we’re going to be distracted from receiving and responding to the word of God.
  • The final type of soil is what Jesus hopes and wants each of us to have. It’s “rich soil,” or “good soil,” and he says that those with it feature three things. First, they “hear the word.” They’re listening in order to understand and to obey, not just giving idle ears. Second, they “accept it.” They’re actively seeking to welcome it, to say “fiat” to it, to put it into practice. And third, they “bear fruit” from it. And Jesus doesn’t say they just bear “some fruit” or a “little fruit” but massive fruit: 30, 60 or 100-fold. If we have rich soil, the seed God implants will bear a cornucopia. It will change our lives 30, 60 or 100 ways, not necessarily all at the beginning, but it will continue to bear fruit just like a good plant or tree. Those with good soil are the ones who drill down below the surface; they constantly seek to put their heart in God and in his providence rather than let preoccupations rob them of their faith or riches or other things take the place of God. They are the ones who listen differently, who see differently, who hunger, who starve to receive God’s word as the light of their life. Jesus wants us all to have this type of receptivity and response to all that he seeks to do in us.
  • Today in the first reading we see clearly one of the most important seeds God seeks to implant within us. Loosely quoting the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the Letter to the Hebrews says, “This is the covenant I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord: ‘I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds.’” The Lord wants to implant his “law” into the soil of our hearts, and that law is not one that is written on stone tablets. Rather it is the “new law” who is the Holy Spirit. God wants to implant himself within us. That’s the seed. And he wants us to accept that gift, to listen to the Lawgiver within, for if we do, he will make us abundantly fruitful.
  • Today we celebrate the feast of someone who had the type of soil God wants us all to have, someone who receive God’s word in such a way that he produced more fruit than almost anyone who has ever lived. St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) was a young boy from a noble family in southern Italy. He received a great education from the monks at Monte Cassino and then at the University of Naples, but while there met the newly founded Dominicans and discerned a vocation to be one of them. His family totally opposed him, however. They were fine if he had wanted to become a Benedictine at Monte Cassino, because they thought he would one day because the Abbot there; but they didn’t want him to become a mendicant, begging for his survival. Because they couldn’t talk him out of his resolve — since he had received his vocation not on rocky but rich soil! — they imprisoned him in their castle for two years, where they sought to break down his resolve, even resorting to things like sending a prostitute into his room to try to seduce him away from God. But Thomas wouldn’t budge. He took advantage of the two years to memorize the Latin New Testament (the Vulgate), receiving with faith all of God’s word in such a way that he was able to bear so much fruit in the more than 50 large volumes he would write in his 25 years of teaching, fruit that continues to form so many in the Church until this day. St. Thomas’ soil was fruitful because he was faithful. He would write in his famous Adoro Te Devote for the celebration of the first Corpus Christi in 1264, “I believe whatever the Son of God has said, for nothing is truer than the Word of Truth.” He hungered for God’s word and believed it, because he knew that nothing could be a firm foundation for life. It was because of that faith he was able to do so much. But Thomas never forgot that no matter how much fruit he produced, it was nothing in comparison with the Seed. Toward the end of his life he had two great mystical experiences (that we know of). In the first, he was so moved by the presence of the Lord that he stopped writing all together, recognizing everything he had written — some of the most important and penetrating theology anyone has ever written — were “like straw” compared to the experience he had of God in prayer. The second experience was when Jesus spoke to him from the Crucifix about three months before he died. Jesus said, “Bene scripsisti de me Thoma; quam ergo mercedem accipias?” “You have written well of me Thomas? What reward would you receive? What do you wish that I give you?” Thomas could have asked for anything, but he knew well who is treasure was. “Non aliam, Domini, nisi te ipsum,” he replied. “Nothing but you, Lord!” That was the Lord to whom he listened to understand in prayer, the Lord he sought to see and perceive, the Lord, in short, that he loved with all his mind, heart, soul and strength.
  • At the beginning of Mass today, we prayed to God, “Grant… that we may understand what [St. Thomas] taught and imitate what we accomplished.” As we did so, we were asking not for the grace to produce more than 50 thick tomes of theology, but to grasp the essence of his teaching, that we should believe everything the Son of God has said, and seek nothing other than the Lord himself. Today as we come here for Mass, let us ask the Lord through St. Thomas’ intercession that we may receive the Word of God Jesus has proclaimed for us today on rich soil like St. Thomas’ and imitate him always in seeking nothing but the Lord!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Heb 10:11-18

Every priest stands daily at his ministry,
offering frequently those same sacrifices
that can never take away sins.
But this one offered one sacrifice for sins,
and took his seat forever at the right hand of God;
now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool.
For by one offering he has made perfect forever
those who are being consecrated.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying:This is the covenant I will establish with them
after those days, says the Lord:
“I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them upon their minds,”
he also says:

Their sins and their evildoing
I will remember no more.

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4

R. (4b) You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
The LORD said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
till I make your enemies your footstool.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
The scepter of your power the LORD will stretch forth from Zion:
“Rule in the midst of your enemies.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
“Yours is princely power in the day of your birth, in holy splendor;
before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.
The LORD has sworn, and he will not repent:
“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
R. You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower;
all who come to him will live for ever.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 4:1-20

On another occasion, Jesus began to teach by the sea.
A very large crowd gathered around him
so that he got into a boat on the sea and sat down.
And the whole crowd was beside the sea on land.
And he taught them at length in parables,
and in the course of his instruction he said to them,
“Hear this! A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and the birds came and ate it up.
Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.
And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it
and it produced no grain.
And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.
It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”And when he was alone,
those present along with the Twelve
questioned him about the parables.
He answered them,
“The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you.
But to those outside everything comes in parables, so thatthey may look and see but not perceive,
and hear and listen but not understand,
in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.”

Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?
Then how will you understand any of the parables?
The sower sows the word.
These are the ones on the path where the word is sown.
As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once
and takes away the word sown in them.
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who,
when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy.
But they have no roots; they last only for a time.
Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
they quickly fall away.
Those sown among thorns are another sort.
They are the people who hear the word,
but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches,
and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word,
and it bears no fruit.
But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it
and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”