The cyber-version of my homily for the 15th Sunday Ordinary Time
Today we share the Parable of the Sower. This familiar “earthly story with a heavenly meaning” helps us to realize the power of the seed of God’s Word and the opportunity we have as we allow our Lord to transform and care for the soils of our soul.
When my wife and I were first married we lived at our church camp in the foothills of Western Washington. We wanted to have a vegetable garden. We figured with my gardening and Randi’s kitchen skills we could put up some good food for our pantry. The best place for a garden was a sunny area next to the house. Water was available and the ground had been fallow for years. However it had also been a path/driveway/parking area for a long time. So the soil, already very rocky, proved very resistant for my pick and shovel to make into a fertile garden. So…. I went and got our camp backhoe and dug, deeply, the rocky scrape ground into garden soil. Turning over the soil, I moved rocks building them into a wall around the garden. I then went to the horse barn and brought loads of aged manure to work into the ground. That rocky garden plot was probably one of the best vegetable gardens we have had over the years. And, as often is the case in the garden, it was a precious place of prayerful learning from the Master Gardener.
Often in thinking of this parable we are brought to think that we are to be only and always the rich fertile soil. Yet Jesus, a man of the earth and familiar with the realities of life makes clear that this is about real times and places of life. Our souls will know, in the course of a lifetime’s journey, the soils and places of the soul. Jesus, the Christ also helps us to learn we are called to be souls whose soil is made fertile in the fruitful understanding of the Word of God.
Path soil is shallow and while often receptive to seeds of grace will usually result in shallow-rooted plants easily lost when the evil one comes along to steal away the Word of God. Much like the crows or blue jays that will feast their way through a newly sown garden the seeds of grace intended by God can be lost.
Rocky ground also is not initially well suited for a rich and fertile garden. When the heat and scorching wind burn with trials and persecutions seedlings of faith and untested hopes may quickly wither and die. But when worked by the nail-scarred hands of the Master Gardener the stoniest, hardest of hearts can be made rich and fruitful.
Briar patches overgrown with the thorny worries and cares of this life can quickly overwhelm and crowd out that which the gardener intends to flourish. So often we allow our pride and possessions to choke out the seeds of God’s Word. Possessions, material or otherwise (pride, greed, lusts, anger) can choke out the Truth and peace sown by the Spirit of God.
However the fertile soil of the soul that has been broken up and nourished by waters of baptism and works of faith-filled penance, then nourished by grace will provide fertile, deep soil. The seed of God’s Word can grow to full, fruitful abundance. It is in this place that the soul comes to understand the Word of God.
It is in the simplicity of that word, understanding, that we also find our hope for those times when we are facing places of shallow, path-like, or rocky, and overgrown brier-filled life.
Jesus longs for people to receive and understand His Word. Christ recognized and confronted the reality that people often have in their lives times when the soil of their soul is shallow, easily robbed. He faces the rocky hardness of hearts beaten by forces of testing and oppression. He felt the thorny thickets of pride and self-important arrogance found in many of the learned and powerful of that time and ours. Yet, He calls us to fruitful faith, as we believe and understand His Word.
The Greek word found here in the Gospel describes a growing understanding and faith of mind and heart. This is not just intellectual attainment or proud accomplishments of knowledge. Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, ironically, yet with wisdom, defined understanding as simply: “to stand under”. It is the working of the grace of God when the experience of God’s Word opens blinded eyes and deaf ears of the mind and heart. The Greek roots of the word translated “understanding” define a sending under, of union with, that which we want to comprehend.
This is when the light bulb comes on”.or when we “hear it for the first time” in the heart and mind of faith.
The Prophet Isaiah defined the Holy Spirit as the “ Spirit of Understanding”. Following the Spirit of God, we are lead to the Cross, to Christ and that there our understanding grows in the Truth and power of God’s Word that will return, with us, to Heaven fruitful in grace and mercy.