Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Generous Sower

(15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

When we come to the wise and wonderful parable of the sower, the first thing we need to do is discipline our reflection a little. This is because the first thing we tend to do is ask ourselves which category we’re in; are we the shallow soil, the thorny patch, or the hardened path? We love to put people in categories, including ourselves, so that we judge them. We’ll get to all that, but first let’s back up and start at the beginning, with God.

Notice the image of God in the parable. God is like a farmer scattering seeds on the earth. Indeed, our God is an overflowing love who is always raining down his grace upon us. Just as the sower in the parable scatters the seed all over, even on places where it is unlikely to grow or thrive, so God in pouring out grace is not asking first who is worthy or who is likely to use and appreciate it. This is the God in whom perfect humility and perfect generosity meet, the God who offers his grace just as much to the just and the unjust, just as much to the saint as to the sinner, and who is just as much in love with the grateful and holy soul as he is with the one who never bothers to notice or appreciate God’s goodness to him.

This truth that God is universally generous leads us directly to the problem that the parable is meant to address. If God loves everyone, and does not discriminate, why is there such a diversity of reception? How come one person receives faith and another not? Why do some of us become people of prayer while others live in isolation from God? The parable explains why the grace of God bears fruit in some people and gets nowhere in others.

It’s not God’s fault that some of us become saints while others don’t. It’s our problem. The grace of God is there, poured out for everyone. And we have to ask ourselves: What keeps me from noticing and appreciating God’s grace and what practical strategies can I put into my life to change? Here’s where we can get into some self-examination and use the parable as a starting point.

Probably most of us who are here in church are safe from the first problem, represented by the seeds that fell on the hard path. These are folks who are completely closed to spiritual reflection. There are a lot of reasons why someone is like this; they might be those who already know everything or they might have been hurt someone who was supposed to be a minister of religion. (Like everybody else, they make the most important decisions in life based on spiritual realities like love or truth, but going against what they know in their deepest selves, don’t let themselves admit that spiritual things exist.) But as I say, those of us who are at least who show up to pray and worship together are probably safe from this problem.

The second hindrance we human beings put before the grace of God is represented by the seed that fell on the shallow, rocky soil. This is something we religious people have to watch out for. The grace of God, like any relationship, needs to be cultivated. When we notice God’s goodness to us, we need to deepen that awareness in prayer. You know how when you have an old friend and you fall out of touch and haven’t called for a few years, and then you finally one of you calls the other and you find you don’t have anything to talk about anymore? Well so it is with our relationship with God. If we don’t keep it up in prayer, keeping ourselves aware and grateful for the grace of God, eventually we will find—and I know I’ve been there and I bet there are people who can relate—that though we thought we had a relationship it was kind of an abstract idea with no real content.

The third hindrance to the fruitful reception of the grace of God is represented in the parable by the seed that fell in the thorny patch. It can’t grow because it’s chocked by the thorns. As Jesus says, this represents those for whom the activity of God’s grace is choked by worldly anxiety and the lure of riches. This, in my opinion, is the real spiritual problem that we face in our time and place. We are distracted and anxious and because of it we fail to notice and appreciate the grace of God flowing over the world. But we can choose to change this! For example, when we’re driving or walking along, where do we put our mind and our spirit? Do we dwell on the last difficult conversation? Do we indulge our anxiety about the next thing we have to do? Of course we do; this is the spiritual state of our culture, but it doesn’t have to determine our interior behavior. Instead of dwelling on the past or being anxious about what’s next, we can decide to notice, in that little moment, the beauty of the creation around us, or to become aware for a moment of the miracle of life that is breathing in and out of our bodies.

I mention this because it’s just one of many little practical strategies we can use to improve our spirituality, so that we might notice and appreciate more the grace of God that is all around us. This is how we make our hearts and minds into the good soil that God can use to multiply his grace and to use—often without our knowing about it—to bring his grace to others.

As the prophet Isaiah says today, God’s grace will find a way to be fruitful in the world. If not through us, the history of salvation shows that God is ready and willing to go to somebody else. God’s Word, which as we know is present to us as Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, will accomplish the salvation for which God speaks it to the world. Let’s open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts and become grateful places where that Word can take root and grow. As the Word return to God, taking the resurrected humanity of Christ with it, let us consent to God’s desire that the whole world be lifted up in that Resurrection.

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