Thursday, 13 July 2017

July 16th 2017. Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Matthew 13, 1-9
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL: Matthew 13, 1-9
On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. 
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore. 
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
"A sower went out to sow. 
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up. 
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. 
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots. 
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. 
But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. 
Whoever has ears ought to hear."
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kierans summary . . . The first reading tells us that the Word of the Lord is always effective. It does not return to the Lord without having its effect. In the Parable of the Sower, by contrast, Jesus describes three cases (the pathway, the rocky soil, the thorny ground) where the Word of the Lord does not produce fruit. How can we explain this contrast? The fact is that the Lord’s relationship with us does not develop in a single day or in a single “sowing” of his seed in our hearts. All of us reject the Lord’s grace on many occasions during our lives. But these graces are not wasted because often it is when we look back at our own past rejection of the Word sown in our lives that we come to true conversion. We look back at the ways we have wasted God’s blessings and this brings us to humble contrition and authentic openness to what the Lord wishes to do with us. In the longer version of the Gospel (not reproduced above), Jesus speaks dramatically of those who are not saved because their eyes are blind, their ears insensible and their hearts impenetrable. All of us run the risk of being like this, of being barren targets of the Lord’s seed. This Sunday let us look back on the many times we have wasted God’s grace. May this prompt us to be more merciful and welcoming of others and more open and docile to the action of God in our lives.

The first reading speaks of the fact that the Word of the Lord always achieves its purpose, but in the Gospel Jesus recounts a parable in which the Word of God often bears no fruit. How can we understand this contrast?
The first reading this Sunday is a marvellously incisive passage from the prophet Isaiah. We are told that the Word of God is like the rain and the snow: they do not fail to carry out their task of irrigating the earth. So too the Word of the Lord does not return to him without having achieved its purpose. However this declaration of the efficacy of the Word of God seems to be in contrast to the parable recounted by Jesus in the Gospel! The Parable of the Sower expresses the great drama of the relationship between God and humanity. The sower goes out to sow but his efforts have different results. All of this expresses the different ways in which the initiative of the Lord is welcomed by different people. And in contrast to the first reading it seems that the initiative of God does not always have an effect. In the first of the three negative cases given, the seed falls upon the road and is eaten by the birds. In the second case, the seed falls on rocky soil and springs up quickly, but soon dies in the heat. We could say that in the first case there is no openness to receive the Word of God, whilst in the second there is a limited openness. In the third case, the seed falls among the thorns. Here, there is an openness to receive the seed but unfortunately there is openness to the weeds as well. Any farmer will tell you that the weeds are usually stronger than the good plants, so in this case the new seed is suffocated. Surely these are three cases of failure?

God wants us to relate to him in freedom. This means that our “No” is always possible. Sometimes it is only when we when we have said “No” to the Lord many times that we begin to get a perspective on our own misery and failure. These failures were not complete failures if they eventually spur us to turn with humility to the Lord.
How do we square the parable with the first reading? It is necessary to read things a little more deeply. The failure of the seed to produce fruit may not be the immediate effect that the farmer wished to achieve but it is still an effect. It is a fact of life that God’s grace does not - in most cases - arrive in the heart of man and have an abrupt positive outcome. Very often people mature and grow by means of the failures that occur in their lives. We must admit that many graces that have been given to us have been wasted entirely. But the story of a human being cannot be read by a focus on these individual failures. Our development does not happen in a single day. A global perspective on a person’s life is necessary. We are never too wise in our opinions if we look at a person’s development from a narrow standpoint. And, unfortunately, it often happens that it is only at the end of our refusals, failures and frustrations that that which is good in our hearts comes to the surface. Our problems, in the end, are problems of our relationship with the Lord. A relationship of love requires freedom. Our capacity to say “No” is essential if this relationship is to be authentic. Where this freedom is lacking there is no love but dictatorship. God is benevolent towards us and spreads his seed in all directions. He gives all of us the possibility to respond, but he does not impose himself upon us. This means that, inevitably, there is the tragedy of the “No” of man.  When we look back on the many times we said “No”, when we see how we have wasted the grace of God, we gradually begin to open our eyes on who God is.

We are like the stony path if we reject salvation unless it makes sense to my way of understanding the world
In the first case given in the parable (the seed that falls on the path), the “No” of man to the initiative of God is a rejection of the things that he does not understand. In the explanation he gives of the parable, Jesus says that the seed sown on the path refers to the case when the recipient hears the word of the kingdom but does not understand it. Then the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. This is what happens when the human being makes his own categories of understanding absolute. If he does not understand something, then he rejects its potential to save him. But this is simply not true. God can save me though the things that I do not comprehend. How many times I have damaged my soul, my heart and my life because I refused to go beyond that which was intelligible to me.

We are like the rocky soil if we do not allow the Word of God to take root in us. This requires giving the Lord the time and space to penetrate into our hearts.
In the second case, the hearer has all the enthusiasm that comes in the early moments of a positive experience. But he does not allow the seed to take root in him. We need to allow ourselves to be permeated by the wisdom of God. It must be permitted to enter into our hearts. It is not good to flit from one thing to another without reflecting on what is going on in our lives. How often in the life of faith there is a focus on activity. We keep moving from one activity to another. It would be much better to do less and to do it well. In the end we are not saved if we do not allow ourselves to be pervaded by God right to our roots. It is important to realize that the graces given to us are often wasted if we do not allow them to have the space and the time to have their effect.

How often we try to make our faith compatible with the things of this world, attachments to possessions and vainglory. These compromises are not legitimate and will suffocate the Word of God in our lives, preventing it from producing fruit.
The third case is that of the seed sown among thorns. The fixation with worldly things and the seduction of riches suffocate the Word of God and do not allow it to produce fruit. How often we try to combine the things that the Lord is saying to us with other sources of “wisdom”. We seek to find a compromise between the wisdom of God and the comfort of life. We think that we can steer a path between the ways of God and the vainglory of this world, the anxieties that are attached to material possessions. This kind of mishmash is not legitimate, but it is an effect that we can recognize as we look back at our response to the Word of God. A thousand times we have rejected grace because we sought to combine it with something incompatible. We endeavoured to associate unworthy things with the love of God, his grace and wisdom, his holy will.

This Sunday let us allow the Word of the Lord to take root in us. Let us look back at how the Word was rejected by us in the past and allow this knowledge to make us more merciful and welcoming towards others, more open and docile to what the Lord wishes to do with us.

This Sunday we are challenged to allow God’s Word to have its effect at the deepest level within us. Even if his Word has not had its intended effect in the past, it makes us wise. When we behold these past failures on our part, we become more merciful and welcoming towards others. In the longer version of this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus speaks dramatically of those who are not saved because they do not hear with the ears, do not see with the eyes, nor comprehend with the heart. This is a real possibility for each one of us. Our eyes can be blind, our ears can be deaf and our hearts impenetrable. We must recognize this fact and fear it. Many opportunities that went wasted in our lives can now have their efficacy if our contemplation of them helps us to become wise and docile to what God is seeking to do with us. 

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