July 16, 2017 — Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
At the root of the word “inspiration” is the word “spirit.” You can recognize that spirit is at the very center of inspiration. In fact, our word “inspiration” comes to us from Latin sources, as the Latin word “spiritus” meant “breath.” Thus, when we say that the Bible, the Word of God, is inspired, what we are really saying is that God breathed inspiration into those who wrote His Holy Word. All of our readings on this Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time refer to the inspiration of God’s Word.
The First Reading from the Book of Isaiah opens with one of the most beautiful references to the Word of God ever written “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” The images of rain and snow and the Word are incredibly vivid.
Most of us understand how rain and snow descend upon the earth. This moisture is what allows things to grow and produce. We may have learned in school about atmospheric circulation, how the moisture falls to earth but then returns to the heavens only to fall and provide the needed moisture again. God is pointing out to us that His Word comes in the same way — He sends it to us, but it does not return until it has accomplished its intended purpose. The Word of God has strength and meaning, and in the long run it never fails in its intended objective. Our understanding and our discipleship are part of that intent.
St. Paul reveals to us how we fit in to the Word as described in Isaiah. Paul refers to revelation, how the truth is revealed to us through the Word. It is these revelations that give us “heavenly hope” to us, the words of St. Paul. In the midst of the Second Reading, Paul explains quite clearly how the Word is intended to work when he says, “The coming glory will not only be revealed to us, but it will actually be revealed in us.” We are to take God’s Word and make it real to those around us.
This is what we mean when we say stewardship is a way of life. Paul also indicates that the Holy Spirit is alive within each of us, and it is through God’s word that it is activated, that it blossoms and grows and produces fruit. God has put what Paul calls the “glory” into each of us now. It is up to us nonetheless to make it apparent to others. We do that by how we live out discipleship. Revealing the Word and living it out is up to us.
As is usually the case it is the Lord God Himself Who puts the above into perspective through His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Gospel. The Gospel from St. Matthew tells us of Jesus addressing the crowds and explaining the Word. Note that Jesus teaches from a boat. That was unique at that time, but we can be sure the Lord knew exactly what He was doing. Imagine the scene — the Lord in a boat near shore with the wonderful backdrop of the water and mountains along the Sea of Galilee in the background. Of course, he was aware that sound travels better across water, so His Words would have volume and clarity.
And then He begins to teach with parables. The roots of the word “parable” come from a Greek word (παραβολή/parabole) which meant “illustration” or “analogy.” However, it also carried with it the idea of “to throw along the side of,” something placed next to a truth. One Bible scholar has described a parable as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” It is one of the most effective ways that Jesus brought the Word to life. In the particular parable He relates today He speaks of a sower, and how the important factor behind producing crops is more the soil in which seeds are planted than the seeds themselves. In other words the same seed can be planted in various places but it is only the seed planted in rich soil which will produce fruit. We, of course, are the soil to which He refers.
Are we indeed “rich soil?” Jesus says, “…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.” It is up to each of us to seek to become the kind of soil the Lord’s Word needs to produce a harvest. It is we who must receive the Word from the Heavens and do something with it which accomplishes God’s purpose. That is what is meant when we speak in the stewardship terms of: “Receiving God’s gifts; cultivating them; and returning them with increase to the Lord,” the same as the atmospheric circulation to which we made reference in the First Reading.