July 12, 2020: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner
Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. Matthew 13:18-23
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus preaches the parable of the sower. While we might be familiar with the basic outline of this famous story, the fact that Jesus takes great pains to explain its meaning to his disciples signals that the point of the parable is easily missed. As the sower, God the Father scatters the seed of His life-giving Word of God in the field of the world. Yet, the emphasis of the story is not on the work of God, but upon how God’s word is received. The parable of the “sower” is really a parable about “soil.”
The parable presents four kinds of soil: the hard path, the rocky ground, the thorny topsoil and the fertile land. While we might easily identify ourselves with a particular kind of soil, the reality is that our lives are an admixture of each kind of soil. With this in mind, let’s consider each soil and reflect upon how we might cultivate it towards fruitfulness.
The Hard Path. Jesus says that those who hear His Word but do not understand, are susceptible to having God’s presence snatch from their hearts. As Dominicans, this is the reason why we emphasize the need for study in our spirituality. If we are not studying our faith, if we neglect the reading of the Scriptures, if we are ignorant of the great stories of the saints, then our hearts easily harden for lack of cultivation. Hard soil is made fertile by turning it. We need to be churning the soil of our minds, that we might hear and understand God’s will. The work of enriching the soil is not easy but vital if the seed is to find purchase. Our hearts are softened by study. Awaking wonder for truth and then seeking the wisdom of our traditions makes it possible for God’s presence to find life in our hearts.
Rocky Ground. Jesus says that those who initially receive God’s word with joy but then are easily discouraged lack the root system to be fruitful. Prayer is the tool by which we dig deeper past the rocky disappointments of life. It is easy to believe when we are blessed. It is more difficult to recognize the blessings that come from tribulation and suffering. Prayer is that difficult discipline that transforms the rocky clods of life into rich soil. When I hear someone minimize prayer with expressions like “in this difficult situation, prayers are not enough,” I suspect that they are either ignorant of or not practiced in the art of contemplative prayer. Nothing is more difficult and yet is more powerful than opening your heart in the silence of God’s presence. In silence, God speaks. In quiet, all of life’s struggles and discouragements find proper perspective. In calm, peace is born. Prayer is not inaction. Prayer is the most strenuous of activities. Prayer has power to activate transformation of mind and heart.
The Thorny Topsoil. Jesus says that those who hear and receive the Word produce a meager harvest when they let distraction and worldly care choke it. This points to the need for the Word of God to be shared with others. If we receive God’s truth as something to be possessed, then it simply becomes one of many of life’s pursuits. The four pursuits of happiness (pleasure, possessions, power and prestige) only find their natural place when we recognize that happiness is not something we get but comes to be when we give. Simply, hearing and receiving God’s Word does not save. We have to share that Word with others. Otherwise the pursuits of happiness begin to be warped into self-serving endeavors. If we want to root out the thorns of our selfishness, we have to ask ourselves how God is calling us to serve. Only when we are sharing God’s Word with others does it bear fruit in our lives.
Fruitful Land. Jesus says that those who hear and understand the Word produce rich fruitfulness. Reflecting on the first three soils, we discover that the soil of our soul is enriched by study, prayer and service. If we want the Word to take root and grow, each of these spiritual activities need a practiced and regular rhythm in our daily lives. We might add to this that this “spiritual agriculture” always takes place in the context of community. In these days when gathering as a community is more difficult, we recognize that our faith is communal. Being Catholic is being connected in community. We strive to find ways to keep and strengthen this connection. We pray that we can soon gather safely together in worship. We give thanks for the blessings that God give us through our St. Dominic’s community. May the Word of God dwell in you richly!