15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Farming in Jesus’ time was very difficult. The soil in the middle east can be very hard and required hard work to break up, using rudimentary plows, really just sharp sticks that were dragged across the surface by a team of oxen. Back breaking work. The sower would then simply grab a handful of seed from a sack and throw it out over the field. He didn’t dig a hole, drop in a seed, and then put in some fertilizer. He didn’t tend the field after planting it. He relied upon the rains to water it, and as you know, there wasn’t a lot of rain. He didn’t weed it. He basically left the seed where it landed and hoped for the best. It was up to the field itself to determine if anything grew or not.
The ancient farmers saw everything they received as a gift from God. They trusted that God would provide the rain and snow to water the plants to create seed and wheat for bread. They were totally reliant upon the whims of nature, or, as they saw it, the pleasure of the creator. Whether the farmer’s family ate or starved was at the mercy of God.
So the people listening to Jesus that day could really relate to the story. They understood the seriousness of the situation because they experienced it first hand. They just had a hard time relating themselves to the story. The did not understand how it applied to them. What could they do to affect the harvest when it was really all in God’s hand?
This is not a passive parable. There are two actors working together in this parable: the sower and the field. Each has an active role in whether or not the seed bears fruit.
The sower firstly chooses to sow. The sower prepares the field. It’s the same field, but with different conditions in different areas of the field. It receives the same water and sunlight, and the sower scatters seed to the entire field. He does not discriminate or play favorites.
The field also has a choice in the matter. The conditions of the field can change if the field wants them to. We are the field. If we want we can move to a better part of the field. I think we are always moving around the field. Sometimes we are the rocky soil, sometimes we are among the thorns, other times we are the good soil. Heck, I’ve been in all three areas just in one day!
This parable is all about the choices we make. We can choose to let the seed fall on the hard ground, or we can cultivate the hard ground to receive it. Are our hearts open to the seed? Do we want to truly understand? Have we hardened ourselves to the word of God, to Jesus? We prepare the ground of our own hearts and we accept the cultivation and sustenance we are given.
Some seed fell on the path and the birds ate it before it could take root. There was no understanding, and so the devil came and took it away. To take root and flourish, the word of God must be received with understanding. That requires that we seek to understand. We receive understanding first from the Holy Spirit revealing the word to us in scripture and in the teaching of Jesus that has come down to us from the Apostles. Understanding is how we prepare the soil of our hearts. We break up the hardness to allow the seed to penetrate deeper, where it can take root.
Knowledge leads to understanding, understanding leads to decision, and decision leads to action.
Some seed fell on shallow rocky ground. It sprang up quickly but had no depth so it soon withered in the hot sun. Sometimes people base their faith upon emotion or self-centeredness only, and so once the excitement wears off and trouble comes, the faith dies. They are attracted by the externals of religion, or by a charismatic preacher or teacher or the music they like, or by the feeling they get in a certain community. But they never really go deeper, never seek to truly understand, and so they don’t stay long. They don’t study their faith. They don’t seek God in service to others. They just want to be fed themselves. They hop from congregation to congregation, always looking for that one experience that will make it all click. That is not a faith that survives adversity and suffering.
Some seed fell among the thorns, and when those thorns also grew up alongside them, they overwhelmed the good plants and choked them out. Worldly desires and worries choke them out. We can choose to let the world choke out the word, or we can clear the path of all the things that distract us and cause us to turn away. We are all planted in the same field, however, we are in the world but should not be of the world.
Oftentimes those thorns are on rosebushes; they are really attractive and beautiful. We are drawn to their beauty and don’t see the thorns underneath. Sometimes the thorns seem so tall and so strong that they overwhelm us, and we lose hope. The thorns are all around us. The key is to not let the thorns be the focus, but the word. Letting go of worldly desires and anxieties is a choice we have the power to make, and it can be liberating.
But Jesus says that the seed that falls on good ground not only grows but yields so abundantly that it makes up for all the seed that did not produce anything. The field will therefore be plentiful, even though only a small part of the seed took root and flourished. Because in God’s plan everything he does bears fruit. His word will not return to him until it produces exactly what he sent it to do.
God has a choice and he chooses to send us his word to give us life. He offers that life to everyone he has ever created and will create, without favor. It is the same life for everyone. He doesn’t plant good seed in one field and poor seed in another. His will is that the seed take root and accomplish what he sent it to do. It will accomplish that because God cannot fail. However, when and where His will is accomplished requires a decision and action on the part of the recipient. We have the ultimate say in the matter.
We are not passive actors in this play. We are not simply receptors of the message, but active searchers and cultivators. We are active participants in the growth of the seed. God will do his part. He will send his word to us like he sends the rain to the earth, and that word will give life to the world, whether we as individuals accept and cultivate it or not.
God will not be denied, but we can deny God. It is our choice. We choose what to do with the word and with the life it can give us. The seed has been planted in you. What will you choose to do with it?