15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 12, 2020
Most Friday afternoons, I manage to get out of my office early and make my way to my mother’s house. In exchange for one of her outstanding meals, I spend most of the afternoons doing what I strangely enough enjoy – working around her house, painting, cleaning a gutter, taking care of whatever needs to be done, and especially working in the yard pruning or trimming trees and shrubs and planting everything from grass to flowers, herbs and an occasional tomato plant or two.
If you enjoy or are at least familiar with planting as I am, today’s gospel may raise more questions than answers. Jesus tells a parable about a farmer – a sower – who went out to sow seeds … on a path … on rocky ground … among thorns and weeds … and on rich soil.
A thoughtful planter might wonder why the sower wasted seeds in those areas that weren’t particularly hospitable to the growing process. There was, however, a method to the sower’s technique. You see, the terrain of first century Palestine was so inhospitable to growing anything, that the farmer sewed seeds everywhere in order to maximize his yield.
Jesus, in turn, used this image with which most of us are familiar to teach us a lesson on how we receive the presence of God in our lives. The seed represents the Word of God – the message of life and salvation. And the various types of soil and terrain represent us who receive the presence of God in all sorts of different ways. … So for example, sometimes we do little to nurture the presence of God that’s planted in our lives. What’s given to us with great effort by our family or friends or parish community is disregarded and, in turn, withers and dies. … Occasionally the Word of God is given to us and it seems to have great potential to support and sustain us in life’s journey – until it’s surrounded and overwhelmed by weeds – all sorts of competing values and life styles that the world holds before us as worthwhile and appealing. … But often, the presence of God is received well and given care that enables it to grow and flourish and sustain us and others.
That’s a pretty good assessment of what we do with the gift of faith and God’s loving presence that’s planted in our lives at Baptism. Sometimes we care for it – and sometimes we don’t. … When we care for the presence of God, it readily provides us with meaning, consolation, peace and life. When we fail to nurture our relationship with God, however, we may not find much of anything when we need to tap God’s presence in our life. That’s not so because God is angry or absent – but because we don’t know where to look or how to listen.
Today’s gospel parable offers us some pretty good insight into how best to nurture the presence of God in our lives. We nurture that presence not by withdrawing from our world in some sort of pious practice or ritual. We nurture the presence of God in our lives when the values of our faith become so much a part of our lives that we live what we profess, in season and out.
What do I mean? Consider another element of the parable that we often overlook – the sower – the farmer. He just keeps sowing seeds, scattering them wherever he can. … From a faith perspective, he knows it’s his responsibility to spread the message of the Gospel – in word and deed! In Church terms, we call this evangelization – proclaiming the gospel of Jesus – living our faith in service of one another – something we’re ALL called to do by our baptism.
The last four months of our lives have been pretty challenging, haven’t they? They’ve led to sickness and prompted fear, discouragement and frustration. They’ve caused some to yield to anger and bitterness. Yet so many faithful souls have not allowed the circumstances of this pandemic to prevent us from living our faith in service of those most in need. To the contrary, goodness and generosity have abounded – particularly in the midst of these dark days – giving us all a reason to hope.
In the great Westminster Abbey in London, there’s a memorial to a canon of the Abbey and a great preacher to the poor, Samuel Barnett. The memorial contains words that Barnett believed with all his heart: “Fear not to sow because of the birds.”
There will always be challenges to our efforts to nurture the seeds of faith that we sow in our lives. But by the grace of God, many of those seeds will take root and will yield a harvest far greater than we might ever believe possible. … Never forget, my friends, in your willingness to sow the seeds of faith and to live the values of the gospel, you provide hope to many. And that, my friends, is all that the Lord asks any of us to do and what our world needs now more than ever!