15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus, the prophets, and all the writers of the Scriptures spoke to the people in language they could understand.  Today’s Old Testament reading and Gospel are perfect examples.  They both speak in terms that an agricultural society could relate to.  Both talk about seeds and what it takes to either make them grow, or not grow.


Of course, we understand the symbolism today, but we may not be quite as concerned, or as educated in the process of turning seed into a useful crop.  We know that seeds need water and fertile soil to grow, but we don’t live with those things on a daily basis.  We understand that there are farmers somewhere who grow our food supply, but a drought in Kansas is much more of a concern to those farmers than it is to us, at least day to day.


For example, our neighbors to the north, particularly Iowa, have been experiencing terrible floods.  We see the images on the nightly news.  We may even be thinking that eventually all that water will have to make it’s way to Saint Louis.  But we may not think about the farmers whose crops, and therefore, their livelihoods, are being threatened.


In Biblical times seed was expensive.  And the soil wasn’t the best.  A failed crop meant possible starvation.  Turning seed into food was a life and death proposition.  It was serious stuff.  For you and me, a failed “crop” may mean that our lawn isn’t as green as our neighbor’s.  When Isaiah speaks about rain making the earth fertile and fruitful, the people understood exactly what he was talking about.  Speaking for God he says, “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.”


In His famous parable of the sewer and the seed, Jesus is using this same analogy of seeds to represent His Word.  Unlike a lot of His parables, He gives us the advantage with this one of explaining what He means.  When the disciples ask Him why He speaks in parables He tells them that knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom has been granted to them, but not to everyone.  “They look but do not see and hear but do not listen but do not understand.”


“The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it and the evil one comes and steals away what was sewn in his heart.”  If you’ve ever tried to grow grass, you know that sometimes some of the seed will fall on the sidewalk or the driveway.  You plant seed, fertilize it, and water it.  Then you wait for it to grow.  Meanwhile the seed that lodges in the cracks of the sidewalk, without the benefit of fertilizer or water seems to sprout up overnight.  It’s frustrating, but you also know that the grass that’s growing in the wrong place won’t last.  It dies very quickly.


The same is true of the word of God.  You may hear the word.  It may hit you at just the right time in your life.  You’re excited.  “Yes, I see now.  God is speaking to ME.”  But if you don’t really understand it, if you don’t have the spiritual capacity to use what you’ve heard, your enthusiasm wanes and by Monday you may have forgotten all about it.


“The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hearts the word and receives it at once with joy.  But he has no root and lasts only for a time.  When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.”


I heard a statistic recently that’s really scary.  Of the people who go through the RCIA program and receive the sacraments on Holy Saturday, just 35% of them are back at mass the weekend after Easter.  Think about that!  We’re not a church where you can just walk in off the street and be baptized.  We make you jump through hoops.  You have to go through a formation program that takes months to complete.  But in spite of all that, in spite of the studying and praying that it takes to prepare for baptism and confirmation, one out of three of those people don’t stick with it.  Talk about rocky soil!


“The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.”  I think that describes most of at least some of the time.  There are so many distractions in the world that it’s easy to forget about God in our daily lives.  We can blame television, the internet, or just the pressures of modern society for distracting us.  But remember that Jesus was speaking in the first century.  Even without all our modern distractions, the people of His time fell into the same trap.


Here’s a question for you: How often do you think about the Word of God?  All day every day?  Or just for an hour on the weekend?  By the time next weekend rolls around will you even remember what today’s readings were?  Will you have looked up next weekend’s readings to better prepare yourself for coming to mass?  If you want God’s word to fall on fertile soil, you have to do the fertilizing.


Finally, He says, “But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred, or sixty, or thirtyfold.”   That’s the goal.  We want to be that rich soil.  Not only do we want to prepare ourselves to receive His Word, we also have to be prepared to share it.  We need to read the Scriptures, we need to pray on them, and we need to reinforce their teaching by sharing it with others.  Academics will tell you that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.  We’re called to be disciples.


In this chapel we’re surrounded by statues of the saints.  These holy men and women are here to motivate us and to remind us what’ needed to become saints ourselves.  They all have one thing in common.  None of them kept their faith to themselves.  Some were teachers, some were preachers, some did wonderful things for the poor.  But they all put their faith on display for others to see.  They made it their life’s work to spread the Good News, either by their words or by their actions.


Notice that in the Gospel Jesus makes no judgment on what’s the best way to sow the seed.  In fact, if we only sow seed on fertile ground, aren’t we preaching to the choir?  It’s easy to preach to a community of believers.  It’s getting something to grow on rocky soil that takes a lot of work.  But it can be done.  Church history is full of examples of hard-hearted people who were converted by hearing the Gospel.  Even some of our most revered saints were serious sinners before they ran into a disciple who was willing to make the effort to turn them around.


Saint Monica prayed for years that her son would return to the faith.  When he did come back, Saint Augustine did ok.  Quite an example that even rocky soil can produce a good crop.


As we leave here today, let’s all make an effort to spend more time in prayer and spiritual reading.  Let’s provide the best soil for the Word to grow.  Let’s all be faithful disciples, not just one-hour-a-week Christians.