July 13, 2014 – Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In a sense, we begin and end our readings on this Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time with the impact of the Word. God reminds us in the first reading that we are to take the Word and live it, and Jesus prompts us again in today’s Gospel that the Word is real, that we are to take it and nurture it and make it fruitful.
The first reading from Isaiah has God comparing His Word to the rains we encounter on earth, which bring new life and growth to everything we experience. God wants us to know that His Word has power. However, we must take that Word, assimilate it, and then live it out. That is exactly what stewardship demands — living the Word out in our daily lives. One of the most common descriptions of stewardship gleaned from our U. S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Stewardship (Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response) is that stewardship is to “receive God’s gifts gratefully… to cultivate them responsibly… to share them lovingly in justice with others… to return them with increase to the Lord.” This is what God means when He says, “my word shall not return to me void.” We are to take the Word of God and make it alive in our lives and the lives of those around us.
It may seem almost incongruous to compare human suffering with the glory of Heaven, but that is exactly what St. Paul does in his letter to the Romans. Of all his letters in the New Testament, this letter is the longest and considered by those who evaluate these matters to be Paul’s most theological letter. At the time of this letter, Paul had never been to Rome, although he longed to go there. Also, the Roman Christian community was large and may have comprised several different factions. The point of this section of the letter is that we as Christians may not always have gratification, but we always have hope. It is this hope in salvation and life everlasting which needs to strengthen us and make clear to us what is most precious to us in our human lives. According to St. Paul “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains… and not only that, but we ourselves.” There is nothing pleasant about the process of labor and birth except for the baby who results. It is that kind of joy, of constant rebirth, of constant conversion, that Paul calls us to keep in mind.
The Gospel reading from Matthew relates Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. There are some interesting slants to this Gospel passage. Jesus was fond of teaching from a boat. It may have been a desire to have some separation from the crowds, but there were practical reasons for it as well. In terms of His voice carrying, speaking over water is clearer and more pronounced than on land. Also, imagine listening to the greatest of all teachers with something as stirring as a vast sea behind Him. One of the Lord’s key sentences is “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
This hearkens to the first reading from Isaiah in which the Word of God comes to us and we are expected to hear it and to act on it and to do something constructive with it.
How carefully do we listen to the Word of God at Mass? How often do we try to absorb it and understand it? Most important, how frequently do we take the message and put it into practice in our own lives? Stewardship calls us to be attentive and to look beyond the obvious. Jesus wants us to be the fertile ground on which His words, the Word fall. We are the good soil, but we must accept and nurture the seeds planted by the Word. Stewardship necessitates conversion. To be truly converted we must see; we must hear; and we must understand.