24 July 2009

We are all farmers now

16th Week OT: Ex 20.1-17; Matt 13.18-23
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Sisters of St Mary of Namur

Having cleared the field of brambles and bush and dug out all the stumps and stones; and having spread barrels of composted mulch and wet undigested leaves over the never-before tilled up ground; and having taken the measure of the field with stake, string, and poor eyesight, the farmer now considers whether it is better to plant this spring's seed in neatly planned rows or to sow the seed in handfuls and let nature's chance decide this garden's most fertile design. A garden expertly rowed is kept freer of parasites and weeds. But nature's design is more fruitful, yielding more, if less perfect, fruit. Weeds and parasites need their homes too. But should it fall to the farmer to labor for the livelihoods of aphids, worms, and the contagious dandelion? How ought he to sow this season's seed? He knows that the ground is in some places rich and in others sandy; in some places there is only a lighting shading of potash coating gravel, and in others a few square feet of deep, black dirt. No matter how he chooses to sow, some of the sparing seed will multiply and blossom, and some will fall between the stones and dry brittle-dead. Knowing now what he must do, the farmer reaches into his bag of seed and begins. . .

Much like this contemplative farmer, our Creator looked upon His creation and considered the most fruitful means of planting the seeds of His saving Word. With Moses waiting on His presence at Mt Sinai, our Lord chose to sow His seed in the neatly measured rows of the Law, carving for His people a garden of commandments in stone. With the seed planted and prophets sent as gardeners to the field to pull the weeds, the harvest, in full bloom and ready for the reaper, produced twelve tribes, a nation, and a priesthood. But this abundant yield was not enough. The hard labor of the prophets and the dedicated work of the priests could not help every seed find fertile ground. The fields must be better prepared, the seed made more robust, and the work of a few given to many, many more.

Making good on His plan to increase the yield of every season's harvest, our Lord planted one seed, a single germ of His Word, in the fields of the world. Knowing that even this divine seed might fall on dead ground, He sent His chief gardener, John, to better prepare the soil. John baptized the rows with water. He watered the open ground. He watered the wilderness and the deserts. And all the while, he announced the imminent planting of the Father's single seed. And when that seed came among the fields, he watered him too. Within days, this seed produced twelve more and those twelve grew a harvest of thousands. Those thousands grew to millions and those millions grow even now to billions.

As gardeners of the Lord's fields should we be more fervent about sowing the seed of the Gospel or a field's ultimate harvest? Should we spend the days of a season weeding weeds and crushing parasites, or preparing more ground, sowing more seed? Some fields receive seed more readily in neatly planned rows. Others produce better fruit among thriving competitors. Parasites can fertilize a dull field, building the strength of the soil in the struggle to survive. However, a field left untended will go wild and produce nothing more than inedible, native fruit. As gardeners, what is the work we must do? And what do work do we leave to the spirit of God? Can we leave a dead field unseeded. Can we coax infertile soil to grow fertile seed? Can we ever abandon a field as hopelessly barren? Not this season. Not today.

Our work is the work of broadcasting the Word, flinging handfuls of ripe seed to the fields of the world. Row up rows if you like. Or sling your bagful of seeds to the wind and watch them settle where they may. You can tend the ground with water and mulch, or take it as you find it. On the day of harvest, the last task, the final work is the Lord's. It is for him to judge the quality of the fruit. Our job is to make sure the seeds are well-planted and tended to the limits of our gifts. Come evening, the farmer's reward is always worth the work of his day.


  1. I like your imagery. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Aaah...sooo rich. I absolutely love the image you paint. The work of the farmer has always been treasured in my heart, because farming is just so simple and humble, absolutely dependent on God and yet relying also on some meek guidance and protection from the farmer. As a friend said, "It's hard to find an unholy farmer!"

    You just won major points with me, Father!