Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation/Prince of Peace
Jesus sits in a boat. A crowd gathers on the shore of the lake. He preaches to them in parables. He preaches the parable of the Sower of the Seeds. We know it well. Seeds sown by the Sower fall on all sorts of soil—rocky, thorny, shallow. Birds eat some of the seeds. The sun withers the delicate roots of others. A few of the precious seeds are planted firmly in rich soil and they germinate to produce healthy plants, which, in turn, produce abundant fruit. The people in the crowd must understand the parable. They are farmers. They understand that not all the seeds they plant survive the planting, not all the seeds that survive will sprout healthy plants, and not all those plants will produce good fruit. What they probably don't know is that as he's preaching his parable about the Sower, the seeds, and the soils, Jesus is discerning the hearts and minds of his listeners, delving into their spirits, learning who each of them is and why they are there with him on the shore. He sees a thorny mind and a barren heart over there. There a scorched soul and there a shallow spirit. Two or three rich souls are ready now to bear the burden of growing the seeds of his Word. Four or five are prepared to do the work necessary to become rich souls. To these, to those with hearts and minds poised to receive his Word, to these he says, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
And what is it that they ought to hear? To Isaiah, the Lord says, “Just as the rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return until they have watered the earth, so my word will not return to me empty, but it will do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” The Lord sends rain and snow, making the earth “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats.” His Word is sent as seed to be sown. For those with ears to hear: the Word is sown, the earth watered. Now, what sort of soil are you? Are you shallow like the soil on a well-worn path? Thin, easily blown this way and that? Shallow enough that the birds of every new idea, new trend, new philosophy can come along and eat the seeds you've been given? Perhaps you are rocky soil, hard in places, soft in others. Difficult to till, impossible to tend. Lots of stones, lots of gravel: Regrets, enemies, hatreds, worries. No where for the tender roots of your seeds to sprout? Maybe your soil is choked by thorns. The deadly bush and brambles of habitual sin, cold-heartedness, or a steadfast refusal to find joy? Those thorns will dry up the water of the Lord's grace and starve your seeds. Of course, it is always possible, maybe even probable, that the soil you present for sowing is rich, well-tilled, perfectly watered, and ready for planting! You are ready for conversion, eager even to get down to the risky business of nurturing the seed of God's Word, and verging on impatience to be bear the good fruits of the Holy Spirit!
So, what sort of soil are you?
If you're like me, like most of us, I daresay, you are probably thorny on Monday and Tuesday; rocky on Wednesday; shallow on Thursday and Friday; Saturday is a toss up between too hot and too dry; and Sunday is usually just rich enough to receive a few seeds and have them survive past midnight! Even when we have ears to hear the Word, we don't always hear it all nor do we always listen to what we are hearing. If we had been on that beach with the crowd, listening to Jesus, he probably delved into our hearts and minds and found a tangled mess of worries, joys, plans, memories, half-forgotten lessons, and few unpleasant thoughts about our neighbors. Had he lingered for more than a minute, he would have been treated to a rapid-fire montage of resentments, broken promises, gloats, successes, and a lot of static around thoughts of what comes next. Had he stayed with us for a day or two, he would have watched as we flipped from dedicated servants to selfish ingrates to sniveling crybabies to triumphant conquerors, changing almost as fast and as often as we change the stations on our 500 channel cable box. In there somewhere, he would have seen us get a grip on our self-pity and our sense of failure and strangle it with the more powerful conviction that we are masters of our universe. Nothing and no one rules me! And then, later that same day, that megalomaniac would have to be strangled. By what? Humility? Reality? Maybe a little of both? Watching us from the distance of his boat, floating on the sea, our Lord would see us as if we were riding a carousel, flashing by one moment a faithful disciples, the next a desperate child, the next a self-sufficient individual, the next a lonely heart and a cold mind. We are never just one sort of soil.
If it's true that we are never just one sort of soil, then how do we properly receive the seed of God's Word? How do we make sure that we are rich, well-tilled, and perfectly watered when he comes around to sow the seed? One way is quite simple: never be anything but richly nourished, well-tilled, and perfectly watered. But we've covered the improbability of that scenario. It's not impossible, of course. We are finite creatures, prone to the ebb and flow of circumstance, open to injury and insult, given to fits of disobedience, bouts of lacking in trust. All these make being Always Prepared difficult. . .but not impossible. The other option is to be Always Prepared to be Made Ready; that is, since being always prepared seems improbable, always be open to being given everything you need to get ready. At the very least, this means watching for any opportunity to turn yourself around to face God, to repent. Waiting for every chance to forgive and be forgiven, to bless and be blessed, to show mercy, gratitude, trust. It means being eager to step up in the face of gross injustice; to defend the truth of the Good News; to give witness to the goodness that the Lord has shown you; to suffer for another, to love sacrificially. It means remembering, calling to heart and mind, that you are a creature loved by Love Himself, created and re-created to live perfectly in His presence forever. And when you remember this fundamental truth of the faith, when you recall it, you live right then as if you are with Him—face-to-face—at the moment, right that second. Then, you will always be prepared to be made ready to receive the seed of His Word.
Paul teaches the Romans that “creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.” Why? “. . .in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Our glorious freedom is the freedom from sin's constraint, freedom from sin's limitations. We are never freer, more at liberty than when we are prepared to be made ready to receive God's Word. This is edge of our cooperation with His grace: we do all we can do with His help to be the best possible sort of soil and then we go one step more. We surrender. Just give up. Give up worry, anxiety, control, the need to achieve, and then we are ready. In full surrender to the working of His grace, we are best prepared to bear the best fruits. Sixty, seventy, one-hundred-fold. We are ready.
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