We’ve all heard Matthew’s gospel today several times in our lives.
To give some background and context: A parable is a spoken or literary comparison between two things for illustration. Jesus uses parables in the New Testament for two purposes: to reveal and conceal divine mysteries and as judgements on the faithless. Jesus shifts from his straightforward teaching to parables immediately following his rejection by the Pharisees. This particular gospel has three parts: the telling of the parable, an explanation of why Jesus teaches in parables, and the interpretation of the parable.
It may be worthwhile to think about the significance of “bearing fruit”. In Matthew’s gospel fruit is what one brings to the final judgment as evidence that s/he is Jesus’ disciple. In addition, 75% of what the sower scatters produces NOTHING, but the yield of the rest, the mere 25%, is extraordinary. I don’t know about you, but 25% was not an acceptable “grade” in my household nor would I consider it a success at this time in my life. I wonder if God might have a different measuring tool.
I’m confounded by the fact that Jesus speaks parables to the great crowd but explains them only to his disciples. This completely contradicts what a “good teacher” would do. Although the illustrations are clear, the underlying truths remain obscure to the crowd. Why doesn’t Jesus want to reach the crowd? What are the benefits of teaching in parables? The parable of the sower illustrates how indifferent responses prove unfruitful. On the other hand, fruit brought forth from the responsive heart abounds. Parables make it “easy” for their listeners to apply the parables to their life. Parables cannot be summed up in a one size fits all message. The parable of the sower intends to disturb all who hear it and challenges them to discern which description best describes their life as Jesus’ disciple. This is where faith becomes so challenging for me. I like one size fits all, I prefer black and white, I’m don’t like grey, I don’t flourish in the unknown; rather I tend to worry and panic in the unknown. What does this say about my readiness to be a disciple of Jesus?
I don’t know about you but at different stages in my life I have found myself being three of the four types of the soil. I seem to cycle through as my life and experiences change. Luckily, I can’t remember a time when God’s message has been usurped by Satan and His message completely lost on me; in other words, when the seed has fallen on the path and is eaten by a bird. I’ve generally always had at least a small kernel of understanding of the message God is trying to send me, even if I’m not quick to understand it nor am I on board with the message He’s trying to send me for whatever reason.
In my darkest times, my heart has been closed to the word of God and to the disciples He’s sent to comfort me; in other words, I lost the ability to feel my roots. The worst instance was in 1996 when my husband Jim died. I was so angry at God for leaving Alex (then only 10 months old) and me alone. I couldn’t comprehend how a loving God could allow Jim to suffer so much and to take him from us after such a short amount of time. Unfortunately, I experienced this again in 2002 when I lost my brother. In both these instances, I continued to practice my faith dutifully but was completely shut off from the word and the grace provided by the sacraments. I was just trying to fake it until I could make it or it may have been vanity – not wanting others’ opinions of me to change. I continue to discern which is the true reason after all these years.
Right now, I feel that I’m a seed among the thorns. The last several years in our parish have left me distraught, dejected, and bewildered. In addition, the current national and world situations seem to provide fuel to the fire. I find myself struggling to find God’s presence in my life. Although I know in my head about the inexhaustible mercy of God and His unfailing compassion and forgiveness, my heart is too troubled to feel and internalize these gifts. In these troubling times I’ve been trying to discern what it is that stops me from sharing in God’s love for the outcast and those on the edges of society? Should I just accept that the world is unjust? Does the poverty and situations of so many overwhelm me? So many news stories and personal stories leave me uncomfortable and often times angry. This is not an environment in which the grace of God can find a foothold – again, there are too many thorns. My worries about life cause the Word and God’s promises, the seeds, to wither and potentially die.
Some may have the opinion that staying with the Church through the sex abuse scandal is an example of the seed falling on rich soil. Some of us present here today stayed with the Church even when the going got tough and may have found ourselves defending our faith and our desire to remain in the Catholic Church. This was certainly a time when so many turned away, but some stayed and remained faithful to the Christian way of life. I will be forever be grateful to Fr. Tim for guiding us through those challenging times. I’m sure I’ve experienced personal moments of feeling the richness of the soil, but so often for me these feelings are fleeting. Life happens and the bounty seems to diminish with the passage of time.
As so often happens, I find myself coming away from this gospel with more questions than answers. This most often happens after hearing one of Jesus’ parables – I can’t even discuss The Prodigal Son parable. I like to believe that I am a person who accepts Jesus and tries to commit my life to Him. I try to understand the mysteries and to look for and realize the opportunities Jesus offers. I consider myself a lifelong learner and I continue to strive for deeper understanding of the kingdom and my path to that kingdom. I’m always trying to discern how to best utilize the gifts I have been given for the greater good. I hope I’m not alone in that my struggle comes from the effort it takes to live by Jesus’ teaching in my daily life. As with most things, some days are easier than others.
I leave you with this question: Which soil are you currently planted in?