Relationships are a curious thing. They challenge and inspire us. They have a way of shaping us, moulding us into lives and experiences we couldn’t have imagined possible before. We’ve all probably had an experience where our bond with someone led us to take on heroic acts of solidarity with someone or some cause. Conversely, we’ve probably had experiences where a relationship sours, where something is said or done that fractures the relationship and there can be a longing for a return to the way things were. It reminds me of that old prayer, “God, grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.” Our relationships, as well as our spiritual lives can be so easily frayed when we aren’t mindful of tending to them, much like seed scattered, that ends up getting over run by thorns, or eaten up by birds as we are reminded in today’s Gospel.
The parable of the sower is a reasonably well known piece of scripture. It is somewhat familiar to us because in many cases we have lived out its complexities in one form or another throughout our lives. Who hasn’t felt the pangs of rejection or frustration when something you have invested in heavily appears to go unappreciated. It might have to do with a project at work, or perhaps a renovation at home you laboured over, or a sacrifice you made for your child or a friend or a partner. We can often scatter our time and energy on rocky and arid terrain only to find very little return on our investment. But if its a labour of love, we do it anyway. In this morning’s gospel, Jesus is inviting us to be reminded that life and faith are labours of love, they are to be lived out with a spirit of abundance and grace, equal to the measure we have each received.
Quite often we can become overrun by the weeds of our busy schedules, we can become withered up by an illness, or choked by a fractured relationship, and as a result we might find ourselves becoming more closed off to the transformative power of God’s abundance and grace. During times like these we might wish we had more depth of soil to draw on to withstand the harsher elements of life. The seeds of faith, hope, and love, may well be scattered all around us, but our inner spiritual landscape might not be fully able to absorb them.
In the parable of the Sower, Jesus reminds his audience, and us by extension, that whilst there are many reasons why the seeds of faith and hope may not take root in people’s lives, this should not deter us from scattering these seeds with a spirit of abundance and grace. For the seed will fall where it will fall, and will be received as it will be received. Some seed will not be received, whether due to an experience of God that is snatched away by the circumstances of life or the reality of evil in this world, or perhaps it withers away from not having the right environment to encourage growth and endurance, or maybe it becomes choked by the priorities of this world, but Jesus concludes by highlighting that there are times when the seed we sow will take root in people’s lives, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. As J. David Waugh (2011) reminds us, “The good soil is good simply because its nature provides an environment in which the seed can be nurtured to full maturity. Thus the kingdom of heaven is like a bountiful crop produced in spite of what seem to be overwhelming setbacks.” (1)
It seems to me that setbacks come and go, and distractions compete for our attention on a daily basis, the reality of evil is indisputably a constant in this world that God so loves. These elements are not unlike clouds that obscure the mountain of faith at different times throughout our lives. They come and hopefully they don’t linger too long. The more compelling question I have come to ask myself over the years, and the question I believe the parable today would have us ask is, “Given all of the setbacks, the evil, and distractions in our lives, who is God calling me to be?”
I believe the life of faith exists underneath the surface of all life, its pulse is the one true constant underneath all the noise and chatter of our world and in our own lives. This is the realm of the kingdom of which Jesus speaks of often. I believe, Jesus is inviting us through this parable to recognize that the life of faith invites us into a deeper, more grounded existence by asking us who does God call us to be throughout all the changing seasons of life as we know it. For when we can align ourselves with the pulse of God underneath the surface disturbances of this life we touch the threshold of the kingdom. When we are able to disassociate ourselves from the many setbacks, distractions, and evil of this world and align ourselves with our identity as beloved of God, we discover the kingdom within us, a kingdom that calls us into life in all its fullness.
I love how James Martin, SJ puts it,
What should I do? How many times have you asked yourself that questions today? How about during this week? this month? this year? over the course of your life? In a sense, it is the questions we ask ourselves, again and again. It applies to major decisions: Where should I go to college? What should I study? What career path should I take? What job should I take? It applies to decisions about our personal, and most intimate, relationships: How should I treat my parents? How should I respond to a friend in crisis? What should I do about the problems in my marriage? And it applies to come common, but no less stressful, situations: When should I confront my annoying boss? How should I approach that soured relationship in my family? What should I do about my crazy neighbour? But decision making is not only about “shoulds.” It also concerns our heartfelt wants, our deepest desires, our holy longings. If we are self reflective people, we ask ourselves other questions as well: Who do I want to become? What do I most want to do with my life? Who is God calling me to be?” (2)
The kingdom of God invites us into becoming more fully who we were created to be. It invites us beyond the shoulds of our life and into the question of who are we being? It calls us beyond fear of rejection and ridicule and into a heart for God and others. We are called to sow seeds of hope despite the shifting soils we may encounter along the way. We are invited beyond our withered hopes and scorched dreams and into a kingdom of abundant harvest, where every seedling is sown out of a spirit of abundance and grace with the firm conviction that whatever the setback, whatever the distraction, whatever evil we may encounter along the way, our God is with and for us, and indeed all of creation. Our God is in the business of tending to our soul’s garden, of helping to prepare the good soil even when the conditions are dry and inhospitable to life. Our job is to simply remain open. Open to the possibility of sharing the hope that is within us, open to the grace to break through even the thorniest of soils, open to an experience of the presence of God who comes to nurture our souls with new hope, new joys, new possibilities. “Let anyone with ears listen.” Amen.
(1) J. David Waugh. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol 3. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. (2011). p. 241.
(2) J Martin, SJ (foreword), M.E Thibodeaux, SJ “God’s Voice Within” Chicago IL: Loyola Press. (2010) p. xiii