16 July 2017
A number of years ago I visited the local Catholic community in a very poor agricultural area of Nigeria, an African country. These people were farmers and depended totally on their millet harvest for survival. Whenever they harvested their crops they would always set aside a certain quantity of seeds for sowing when the following Wet Season began. At the sowing time I noticed how careful they were not to waste a single seed because their future depended each time on how much they harvested.
On reading today’s gospel what a contrast we see. The Sower of the seed in the gospel parable seems very wasteful in comparison to the poor farmers I met in Nigeria who just could not afford to do the same. This farmer or sower seems to scatter the seed in all directions without being too worried whether some of it would bear fruit or not. He allows some to fall on the path, some on patches of rock, others among thorns and the remainder on rich soil. So it is as if he is prepared to accept the fact that quite an amount of seeds will not bear fruit. What is Jesus saying? He is telling us very clearly that God our Father is the Sower. And he is so incredibly generous with his gifts to us and that he is prepared to accept that much of the seed scattered, symbolising the talents given us, will not give the return he would wish from us. Yet he is not a miserly, mean God. His scattering of so much seed is telling us more about God’s generosity to us than about anything else. It is saying very obviously that God gives his gifts first of all simply because this is the kind of God we have, a sign of his great love for us. His giving of the gifts does not depend on the return he will receive or the attractiveness of the person who receives the gifts. He continues to lavish us with his gifts so that hopefully sooner or later we will realise his goodness and make a proper response. This is the most important lesson of the parable.
Why did Jesus teach in parables? Well, the purpose of a parable is for the listener to discover something about God and about him/herself. The reader is left to wrestle with the parable to see what it is saying. Since that time the Christian community has given a number of interpretations.
Jesus told this parable at a time when many people were leaving him, they had stopped following him. It was a time of frustration and disappointment for himself and his followers. So the parable envisages this situation of frustration in Jesus’ ministry and it sought to assure the disciples of the ultimate triumph of God’s reign on earth. The seed will eventually bear fruit. The beautiful first reading from the prophet Isaiah today gives the same encouraging message.
The parable is meant to encourage the disciples telling them that in the end God’s purpose would be achieved even if at that point in time it didn’t appear likely. It calls for patience and trust in the final victory of God. Could not such a message be transferred easily to the Church’s situation today when there are a number of scandals, persecutions, many frustrations, failures, as well as many leaving the Church?
There are also other lessons to be gained from today’s parable. We heard how the parable first applies to God and his great generosity to us. It is meant to encourage us too in a time of doubt and questioning. But it also involves a response on our part. God in his love gives us the freedom to respond or not. He asks for our cooperation but will not force it. So how do we hear the word of God and how do we respond to it? Four conditions are presented in the parable. In the first three the word is not accepted for various reasons. Only in the last case is the result good. The lack of success comes from not listening to or refusing to hear the word. Some will say I have no time yet spend hours watching TV or using their computers. Others spend so many hours trying to make more money so haven’t time to pray. Others would like instant gratification or success like instant food but listening to the Word of God demands patience and quietness, not easy to do today.
Today’s three readings ask the question: How do we hear the Word of God? And what a difference it makes when one hears it. But the Word of God is not like ordinary information like giving us the weather forecast. God’s word is like rain on the earth, or like the seed. It changes things. It interacts: it makes possible something new, a new harvest. It is alive; and therefore needs, like all living things an environment that will support life. So we need to provide the conditions in our life, the good soil for God’s seed, for his word to bear fruit. We do this by living good Christian lives, by prayer and good works.
Finally, if we allow ourselves to be nourished by prayer and by God’s word, the result is remarkable. Normally 10% is regarded as a good return on seed sown. But here Jesus promises 30, 60 or even 100%. What commercial bank today would give such a return for an investment?
“Lord Jesus, we pray that the soil of our lives may be very rich so that when the seed of your word falls into it, it may bear much fruit and help to bring about your kingdom on earth. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA