Good Soil, Good Harvest

Jul 16, 2017: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalms 65:10-14
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23
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Today’s readings remind us that the soul, like soil, must be good if we expect good things to grow from it.

In today’s First Reading, we are taught that God’s Word comes down like the rain to nourish the earth and help good things grow. Throughout salvation history, the Lord has rained down many words (the Old Testament, for example) to help His creation thrive and grow, but with mixed results. Isaiah reminds us today that those mixed results are not the Lord’s fault; they are ours. The rain produces fields ripe for cultivation, but it takes work to reap the grain that will keep the crops going as seed, and keep bread on tables.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that sin did not just mess up agriculture; it messed up the designs of creation itself by diverting it from its purpose. The Lord created many things for us to love and serve Him as well for loving and serving others. As we saw in the First Reading, the results were mixed due to an inadequate response on our part to His designs. St. Paul goes beyond the fertile fields described by Isaiah: all of creation is a fertile field that will reap a glorious harvest: eternal life. Sin tried to frustrate that glorious harvest, but the Word came to show us how to follow God’s plan for a glorious harvest once again and help creation achieve its purpose again.

Today’s Gospel is the Parable of the Sower, and the seed being sown is the Word of God trying to make its way into a soul. Through the parable, Our Lord explains the obstacles to the Word of God bearing good fruit. Our Lord invites us to see the difference between hearing something and listening, between looking at something and seeing it. Just as farmers work the soil we have to be active in letting the Word of God bear fruit in our lives by cultivating the soil of our souls. We should not be afraid of welcoming and nourishing the seed of God’s Word because God has sown it for a good purpose and He will continue to watch over the soil and cultivate it. He may ask for something demanding, but He will be with us every step of the way, and He has plans for something good to grow out of our generosity and sacrifice.

Parables present something from daily life, but are also doorways to other spiritual and divine insights about God, the “knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven.” It is not enough to look at the door: we must open it to discover what lies beyond. When we see parables in this way when we see the Word of God in this way, we see something from which we can draw profound truths regarding Our Lord, our world, and ourselves not just once, but constantly. That requires an effort in faith to listen and to see, an effort to open our hearts and open that door into the greater world Our Lord wants to reveal to us. If we do not understand what He is telling us, His Word stays on the surface and does not penetrate our hearts, and the Evil One can easily sweep it away before it has any effect. An active Evil presence out there would like us to remain shallow and superficial and someday lose eternity with God, which is why we always need to watch and pray in moments of temptation and seek to understand God’s Word with profundity. There is a moment where an insight into His Word causes sensible consolations and warm feelings, but sentiments are often skin-deep and change direction like the wind. If we only listen to feel good, when we start feeling bad, we will stop listening — enthusiasm only lasts so long. God’s Word wants to be with us and help us in our vicissitudes; He always has something to say, so whether we are exultant about something or despondent, we need to keep listening, harder if needed.

Our missionaries in sub-Saharan Africa early on discovered that when helping a struggling community that lacks basic resources one of the first priorities is to establish a clean source of water. Unclean water causes dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and many other diseases. Water-related diseases cause 3.4 million deaths a year. A drought devastates agriculture and gradually makes life more and more miserable as water rationing becomes necessary. In most agricultural communities, water is managed as a precious commodity. When the rains come, they bring life to everyone, good and bad.

We must till our soil so that God’s Word can produce a good harvest in our lives, but environmental factors can affect the quality of our soil too. There is a lot of “noise” that can try to drown out His Word, and not all of it is self-generated. We live in a culture today that can be shallow, superficial, and base: all those things can form a sort of screen on our hearts that prevents God’s word from getting in. There can also be a moment where we let our anxiety about something separate us from His Word: we become more concerning with the passing things of this world and not about the Kingdom: we worry about money, power, or pleasure. If we become attached to those things they will not only drown out God’s Word, but they will also make us deaf to many other things as well. What comes to mind in moments of silence? Concerns that come to mind in a quiet and peaceful moment often help us analyze and address our attachments. A bad environment can choke out the Word in our lives, so we need always to consider whether there are certain places we should no longer go, certain people, we should no longer see; if we are too weak to change and to help them, certain things we should no longer do.

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