10 July, Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
We celebrate Christ the gardener, who came to sow the seed of God’s word in our world. The fate of that seed depends on the type of soil where it is sown. The growth of his grace in our lives all depends on how we receive it. Adding a very hopeful note, St Paul assures us that all of creation is in a state of evolutionary growth, to become all that God wants it to be: his own flourishing “Kingdom”.
Is 55:10-11. God’s word, spoken and poured out through the prophets, is like rain which brings fertility to the earth. If we just listen, it will bear fruit in us.
Rom 8:18-23. All creation eagerly waits for God to reveal his glory – especially those who believe in Christ. Even problems can be seen as “groaning in labor pains,” preparing for new birth.
Mt 13:1-23. The basic parable is that of the Sower and the seed. What is sown is the word of God, and the good soil is the heart of the individual believer, receptive to the message.
– that the word of God for us will not fall on the stony ground of hearts too hardened to care.
– that the word of God will not be choked by our superficial concerns, or our material greed.
– that the word of God sown in us will blossom into eternal life, in God’s eternal presence.
– that we can see even our problems as “labor pains,” preparing for new birth.
Power of the Word (Joseph Cassidy)
As a former teacher, I’m often amazed at what some of my past-pupils remember. It would be less embarrassing on occasions if they conveniently forgot. “I remember you saying one time. ..”and out it comes, if not word for word, at least in its general thrust as heard or understood. Ordinary words can have an extraordinary life-span. Their immediate and continuing power we don’t always appreciate. They are not dead things; they have roots!
What’s true of the ordinary word is even more true of God’s. That’s what’s stressed in today’s readings. It’s put in the strongest of terms in the reading from Isaiah 55:10-11: “So it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled, or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do.” The only defence against God’s word is inadvertent or deliberate deafness. And being deaf or hard of hearing is something today’s Gospel does not recommend. In fact, it urges us to hive our ears cocked. But it conveys that message in a different image. It urges us to let the Word fall into good soil, so that it can yield a rich harvest in our lives.
Even though we’re meant to have our ears cocked in church, and even though there’s no substitute for hearing God’s word as a worshipping community, the richest soil in any parish has to be in the home. The home, more than any place else, is a good place for growth. If space is made for God in the home, if parents pray with their children from an early age, if parents treat one another well, if the relationships within the home are basically sound, if Mass, as Christ’s memorial, is seen to matter to the older people, then there is a fair old chance that in the hearts and minds of the children, the seed will take root and grow! It doesn’t always happen, but on balance, if we do the best we can, there’s a fair old chance that it will! Somebody has said that education is what remains when you have forgotten everything else. We forget so easily what was said in church or school. We never forget what happens in the home. The hate and the tension and the fighting – or the hope and the love and the peace. I knew a cole once who used to get up every night and do a Holy Hour for one of their children who was sick. Wasn’t that extraordinary? What family could ever forget that? What family could fail to be influenced by it? But in a sense it’s a bad example because it’s so exceptional. It’s the ordinary things that make the impact on most of us – the daily effort, the daily drudgery, the repeated efforts a father or mother make separately or together to think of us and to remind us of God. It’s only when somebody dies and people start looking back that the ordinary daily sacrifices take on a heroic pattern, and people say, “God, she was a great woman” or “he was a great man.” If we receive God’s word every day in our lives and try to live it, then we are scattering the seed ourselves for the younger generation and generations to come.
I wouldn’t like to give the impression that it’s only parents or older people who are expected to receive God’s word and live it! I think God’s call comes to us at its most personal and urgent when we are young. That’s when most of us felt called to our particular vocations. That’s when I felt the call to be a priest! God’s word has fresh soil and a great future when it falls in a young heart. So if you are young, be generous with God. Be truthful and just and caring and good-living. Be faithful to your Sunday Eucharist and give it continued life throughout the week in the great commandment of love. One of the greatest saints the Church has ever produced, St Thérèse of Lisieux, “the little flower,” was only twenty-four when she died. What use she made of her youth! She had one great objective: At the heart of the Church, my mother,” she said, “I shall be love.” Make that your own. Make it your personal resolution, your greatest objective, your life-long ambition! At the heart of the Church, my mother, I shallbe love.”
Progress by Going Back to Basics (John Walsh)
When the Second Vatican Council was in session the army of newspaper men present found much of the discussions rather dull or over their heads, and to inject more life into their reports they portrayed the entire thing as a struggle between two opposing groups of those participating in the discussions. On the one hand, there were those they labelled conservatives, the cardinals and bishops who wanted to retain the status quo, and, on the other, those who became the darlings of the media, the progressives, who were all for fresh thinking, for new approaches. But the interesting thing was that the progressive policy was, in many respects, a return to the sources of Christianity, an attempt to go back to the mind, and the attitudes and the thinking of the early days in the Church. Many of those ideas which were regarded as new, when put forward by the so-called progressives, were really old ideas, which were brought to birth in the age of the Apostles.
This morning we can try and go back to the age of the Apostles, and capture the fears, the anxieties, the problems that confronted the early Church. The first reading really sets the picture for us. It highlights a correspondingly dark age, further back in the history of the Old Testament, hundreds of years before the Apostolic age. It is taken from that part of the Book of Isaiah, which is called the Book of Consolation. At that time everything seemed to be in a disastrous mess for the Jews, the chosen people of God. The Temple was destroyed, all the leading citizens, the ruling and moneyed classes, were in exile in Babylon, and, to make matters worse, there were many rather weak-willed people among the exiles who had fallen away from the faith of their ancestors, and were putting their trust in the pagan gods of their conquerors.
But God, through the preaching of the prophet Isaiah, kept reminding the faithful not to despair, to keep trusting him when he said that his word would not fail. “The word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.” This, almost precisely, was the situation in the Apostolic Church also, as we see from the gospel. The Christians encountered opposition and persecution on all sides – from the Jews who regarded them as bringing the Law into disrepute, as being blasphemers because they claimed that Christ was a divine person – from the gentiles, who mocked at the folly of the Cross, and at Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Moreover, many of the new converts to Christianity, the “false brethren” as St Paul described them, had fallen away in the face of opposition and persecution.
The gospel parable speaks of the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy, but when put to the test, does not persevere. When some trial or persecution comes on account of the word – that is the gospel teaching – he loses courage and falls away at once. Christians, at present, do not have to contend with active persecution for their faith, at least in this country. Yet our faith, as Christ predicted, will of necessity be challenged from time to time, and indeed at present we have to stand up for our beliefs in the face of a more subtle opposition than that encountered by the early Church, in particular the veiled sarcasm, criticisms and mockery of those who have it in their power to inform public opinion.
Faced with such, we should ask ourselves whether in us the word of God is succeeding in what it was sent to do, whether we try to understand with our hearts, so as to be converted, to be strengthened and healed by our loving God. We should always bear in mind what St Paul said to the faithful who were suffering for their beliefs in pagan Rome, “I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us” (Rom 8:18).
Nor, indeed, should we ever forget that the principal message in the gospel parable of the sower is that, despite all the frustrations we may encounter as we go through life, the grain which is scattered by the heavenly sower will yield a return out of all proportion to what was sown, even at times a hundred times greater. No matter, then, what ups and downs we encounter as we go through life, we should never despair, because we are assured by sacred scripture that God’s kingdom will finally triumph. “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that no one might perish, but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
Words are Delicate (Kevin Condon)
The preacher will do well to concentrate either on the second or on the first and third. Apart from the fact that the second is not well related to the others, it is not technically an example of the “word of God;” it is a “reflection” rather than a kerygma.
(1) The word of God. Words belong to the category of signs. They presuppose both a speaker and a listener and a relationship of understanding. But words are delicate things; the listener in particular can fail to grasp them. So the need to be attuned- to think, to ponder, to pray. This is the point of the parable. There are so many “words” floating about today – papers, books, TV and Radio – that the one essential communication can be lost. But that communication is always there, for any man of good will. “In the beginning was the Word.” The world itself is a word of God. And the word became flesh – and still speaks in the word and sacraments of the liturgy, in the advice of parents, in the example of one’s friends.
Where My Word is unspoken,
In the land of lobelias and tennis flannels
The rabbit shall burrow and the thorn revisit,
The nettle shall flourish on the gravel court,
And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”
(T. S. Eliot, Choruses from “The Rock’)
(2) The problem of evil. It remains the great scandal. Not even faith and hope take it away. But through the Cross and sacrifice of Christ one can triumph over them. Suffering has diminished in the world, but so has the intensity of life that suffering entails. The pleasures of modern living can be an anodyne, blinding men to the great reality of life, which is death.
All In The Family (Liam Swords)
What was sown along the path Matt came to a bad end. His body was fished out of the Thames one morning a couple of years ago. Nobody knew for certain what had happened. There was talk about an “under- world killing” and a “gangland vendetta.” Those who knew him back at. home in Ireland were not really surprised. He was always a cold fish. Even as a young lad there was a vicious streak in him. When he twisted your arm he made sure it hurt. His first protection racket began in the primary school. The others bought him off with sweets, pencil-sharpeners and apples. He was afraid of nobody. Flogging held no terrors for him.
What was sown on rocky ground Concepta was different, different. From the beginning she was religious. At school she was the nuns” favourite. I think they hoped she would enter the convent. She didn’t. She got a job in the civil service instead. She never married. She became active in her parish church as a lay reader and eucharistic minister. If ever they ordained women, she would have been one of the first. Then one day all that changed. They say she had a terrible row with the parish priest. She has never darkened the church-door since.
“What was sown among thorns”: Pat was the golden-boy of the family. He was confident, able and ambitious. At school he was a natural leader. Maybe it had something to do with being the eldest. Everything he touched in the business world thrived. He had both the head and the stomach for it. Luckily for him, heart did not enter into it. Because he hadn’t any. Whatever feelings he had for people have long since been choked to death by his greed for money.
What was sown on good soil Bridget was the youngest. People said there was no go in her at all. It was no surprise to anybody that she was the one who stayed at home. She was always easy-going. She married a local lad who turned out to have a bit of a problem with the drink. She has had more than her share of troubles since her last child was born retarded. And looking after her bed-ridden father doesn’t help either. Still, she never complains. She wouldn’t think of herself as a religious person but her children, husband, father and neighbours are all reaping the harvest of her goodness. Listen, anyone who has ears!
A Core Teaching (Jack McArdle)
Today’s gospel contains a core teaching of the gospel message. It is about his message being given to us, and the ways in which we respond to it. His message is given, it is available to all. When he has spoken, he stands back and awaits our response. That response can range from a full response, to a half-hearted, lukewarm one, to none at all.
Where I am living at the moment, there is a small garden out front. I always got the impression that it is scruffy-looking! Over the years, various people have thrown a few fists of seeds here and there, but it brought little or no improvement. Over a month ago, a resident here, with some gardening expertise and enthusiasm, removed the whole top sod. He then proceeded to dig up the soil, to let the air at it. He fed it some nutrients, and he drove small holes all over it, to let both the air and the rain enter into the soil. He then raked, smoothed it, and removed all the stones, etc. It was then that he sowed a good quality seed. The garden is totally transformed, and I feel good every time I look at it.
The first point is a simple but central one. “The sower went to sow his seed.” He just scattered it here, there and everywhere, with a certain sense of prodigal generosity. Having done that, his task was finished. What happened the seed after that was not his responsibility. That depended on what kind of ground received the seed. The conditions of the ground varied, from place to place. Where the right conditions existed, the seed took root and grew into a harvest. It is exactly like that with the message of the gospel. We often speak of someone “having a heart condition.” Well, in this case, it really does depend on the condition of the heart of the hearer. Every invitation from God has RSVP written all over it. Even “no” is a response!
Some of the ground was as hard as a rock; other places were shallow and had no depth, while other areas were taken over by briars and weeds. There were, however, certain places that were just right for sowing, and the seed got a chance to grow. Have you ever noticed that, after a shower of rain, part of the ground is quite dry, while another part has a pool of water on it? It is the same with human beings. Some people are really open, and the rain can enter freely, while another person is so shut off that the water has to lie on the surface, evaporate, and return to the clouds from whence it came. Beneath the driest desert there is plenty of water, but it is only in rare places that the water is able to reach the surface. So it is with people “You have been able to understand the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but others have not.” It is only when they came aside with Jesus that the apostles were given special insights into Jesus as a person, and into the message he spoke. I was at one such time that he taught them to pray; it was at another that they saw him glorified on Thabor; and yet again, it was so when they saw him in agony in the garden. Prayer is about spending time with God. It is about listening to him. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” rather that “Listen, Lord, your servant is speaking.” All of this is part of the openness of the good soil. Prayer is a hunger, and the soul has a real hunger for – • God, and his word. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts can never be at rest until they rest in you.”
Response: Everything that comes out of today’s gospel is an invitation to respond. Jesus was speaking to people who were familiar with farmers sowing seed, and the various and varied Outcome of that work. They knew exactly what he was talking about. Being the brilliant teacher that he was, he brought them from the known to the unknown. He was speaking to them about something new and wonderful, while using images with which they would be familiar. There is his offer, and my response. His offer is sure and certain, and can be relied on. The big question is: What is my response? What condition is my heart in, to receive the word of God with gladness?
We are not saints! None of us can claim to be perfectly ready to receive God’s word. It is consoling, then, to notice that what Jesus called good ground produced different levels of results, some 30%, some 60%, and some 100%. Even the 30% was considered good ground. The thing about it is that the ground produced something. It didn’t lie completely idle, and produce nothing. The message is for “those of goodwill.” In another story about talents, Jesus tells us that the person who received five talents produced five more; the person who received two talents produced two more; while the person who received one wrapped it in a cloth, and did nothing with it. He was held accountable for what was entrusted to him.
“To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge.” We are speaking about a personal contact with Jesus here. These are the times when we come aside. Life can be difficult, and sometimes out of control. Not to have the spare moment is not to be living, but to be driven or dragged. If I’m too busy for those quiet moments, then I’m too busy. There are as many ways of praying as there are people. It is more a question of getting in touch with and acknowledging my inner hungers, than of the time spent or the method used. Anybody can pray, and praying is so much easier and so much more natural than saying prayers.
When it comes to God and to his word, I must be prepared to go downstairs into my heart, because it is only there that I will meet him, and hear him. “Be still, and know that lam God.” “It is in silence and quiet that you will preserve your soul.” I can have all the theories and knowledge in the world but, if I do not give God time, open my heart to him, and invite him to live in my heart, nothing will happen. “You are the potter, we are the clay.” “You are the sower, I am the soil.” Are you aware of the conditions within your heart, as you reflect on today’s gospel?
How do you rate yourself as a listener? To be a good listener is a wonderful blessing for others. You have one mouth and two ears, so you should listen twice as much as you speak. We often hear the remark “Take the cotton wool out of your ears, and put it in your mouth!” Jesus speaks of people who do not listen. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” A worthwhile experience is to sit quietly in a spot where there are no distractions, to close your eyes, and to try to listen with the heart. On the first few occasions you may hear nothing. Please take my word for it, and act on it: if you continue this experiment, you will hear, and that hearing will lead to prayer.
Unlike the soil which is suitable for sowing only at certain times of the year, there is no time constraints on hearing God’s word, like today, for example. There are so many things in our lives that we are “going to get around to” sometime! “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” If you read this, or hear this, now, then consider what you should do about it. It is worth reading the text of the gospel a few times, so it would be good to have a gospel, or a Mass leaflet, so that you can do that. All I can do is repeat the offer of the gospel. Your response is as important as if you were actually there listening to him with the crowds. It is a personal message, however, or at least the response has to be personal. Think about it.
A working man set out to work every morning with his lunchbox under his arm. In the canteen at lunchtime, he went through the same exact ritual day after day. He opened his box, took Out the sandwiches, opened one of them, and muttered “Oh, no! Not cheese sandwiches again!” One day his mate had enough of this, so he said “Look, dummy, why don’t you ask your wife to put something else in the sandwiches?” “What wife? I’m not married,” came the reply. “Well, who makes the sandwiches?” “I do,” he said.
My life is the way it is because of me. The Lord has scattered the seed, but I may not have the proper condition of heart to receive it.
First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-11
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Second Reading: Romans 8:18-23
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Gospel: Matthew 13:1-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn-and I would heal them.’
“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, 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.
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”