July 10, 2011 – Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
God’s word is active. Some may find that statement surprising, as they assume words are weak or static, while deeds are active. But the conviction presented in the Scriptures is that God acts through his word. Think of the creation account presented in Genesis 1: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light,” and so throughout the chapter. God spoke, and his work was accomplished. His word remains equally powerful.
That’s the background to Isaiah’s prophecy. God declared, “My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” Man can set up obstacles to God’s word, and perhaps delay it, but ultimately we cannot block his will.
Both in the reading from Isaiah and in the Gospel passage from St. Matthew, the farmer’s seed is used as a symbol for God’s word. St. Luke’s version of the Parable of the Sower (8:11) is even more explicit: “The seed is the word of God.” When Christians approach this parable, we know Christ is the Sower and the seed is God’s word. So then the question comes, What kind of soil are we, the hearers?
Jesus’ explanation of the four types of soil is familiar. The path was unreceptive ground, beaten hard by countless feet passing along it. It represents people whose souls are so closed by sin, they make no response to God’s word.
The rocky ground has only a thin layer of soil over stone and represents hearers who respond eagerly. Seed germinates quickly in that setting, but the plants soon wither and die due to the lack of moisture once the sun begins to beat down upon them. Likewise, because their response is shallow, when these believers experience rejection and persecution they soon fall away.
The thorny soil is more complex. That soil is fertile, and the seeds sprout and begin to grow vigorously. But the seed the sower scatters is not all that’s to be found there. The seeds of thorns and other weeds are there, also, and they also begin to grow. Soon the thorns choke the seed, and the crop is crowded out.
But some seed falls on good soil, so it grows and produces a good harvest. The good soil represents those who respond faithfully and persevere in their response to God’s word.
The question for Christian stewards is what kind of soil we are. We need to examine our lives regularly to see how the harvest is growing in us. As the bishops wrote in their Pastoral Letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, “Following Jesus is the work of a lifetime. At every step forward, one is challenged to go further in accepting and loving God’s will.” We may need the help of a spiritual director, but we should do our best to make sure that we are not hard paths, or rocky ground, or thorny soil.
The Responsorial Psalm reminds us, “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” In order to produce the fruitful harvest, we must ask God to give us his grace to help plow the hardness of sin and rid our lives of spiritual stones and weed out the distractions of the world so we’ll be good soil. Thus we’ll be able to use the time, talent, and treasure entrusted to us to bring forth an abundant harvest. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1724) puts it, “By the working of the Word of Christ, we slowly bear fruit in the Church to the glory of God.”