Saturday, July 15, 2017

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 55:10-11
Ps 65
Rom 8:18-25
Mt 13:1-23

It is important to remember that our scriptures, both the Old and the New Testaments, were written at a particular time and in a particular place. They reflect a specific social structure and describe a unique model of governance and law.  One of the challenges today is to put the teaching of scripture into a modern context so as to understand how particular examples and mandates apply to us now in the first part of the 21st century.  Some of the images and examples we encounter in the Bible may fail to affect us or may not resonate with us whereas others still work fairly well.  

Today's first reading, the psalm and the gospel all contain images of grain, seed, rain and soil, images that may be a bit easier for us to understand than images of raising sheep or weaving cloth, something with which the vast majority of us have no experience.   There is quite a bit to consider.

While today’s gospel has several aspects to it, the centerpiece of this passage is the parable that begins in the first nine verses and is explained in the last eight verses.

This particular parable is oftentimes referred to as the parable of the sower.  That is the wrong name.  This parable has little to do with the sower or the seed.  It has everything to do with the soil into which the seed was sown.  The sower is the means of getting the seed to the ground. The seed is good seed that could take root anywhere. 

A parable always points to something more than its story.  When we hear one of Jesus’ parables proclaimed we must always ask ourselves what is below the surface.  While the story of the parable is generally simple the meaning is deeper and more complex.  That is the great gift of the parables; we can return to them again and again, and find something new each time.  We can meditate on them repeatedly and never exhaust what they say to us.  

The parable about the soils onto which the seed falls is a parable about us. It is a parable about us who are here to receive the Word of God, the Living Word of God in the assembly, the Living Word of God in the readings, and the True Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of the altar. 

The Word of God is the seed.  We are the soil.  But  what kind of soil are we?  Are we willing to receive the word?  Are we going to let it take root in us or not?  Will we nurture it?  Will we start off strong and fade in the end?  Will the Word of God take root in us and produce an enormous yield up to a hundred times? 

When he explained the parable to the apostles Jesus gave three reasons for rejecting the Word of God: the activity of the evil one,  personal shallowness, and worldly concerns coupled with the desire for wealth.  We confront each of these on a daily basis. 

Like us, Jesus knew temptation from the evil one.  Unlike us, Jesus never acted on the temptation.  He never “took the bait” no matter  what: food, power, or glory.  Jesus, fully Divine and fully human, was like us in all things but sin.  He is our model of obedience to the will and the law of God.

Personal shallowness is a different kind of rejecting God’s Word.  It is represented by the seed that springs up in a scant amount of soil and then withers with the sun.  That is us when we enthusiastically embrace the Word of God, when we nurture the seed . . .  until something happens.  It could be a natural disaster, a personal crisis, a loss . . . you name it.   But as soon as things don’t go our way we decide God is not worth bothering with.  The childish response, “I could never believe in God if he let something like this happen” is no different than the child who yells "I hate you" at a his or her parents when the expensive video game is not among the birthday presents. 

The crop that is choked out by weeds of worldly concern brings to mind a bumper sticker that is popular in the U.S.  It never fails to depress me when I see it.  “He who has the most toys when he dies wins.”  Wins what?  Accumulating material possessions in competitive fashion, having more, bigger, faster; more luxurious, more exclusive, more prestigious?  All of this distracts us from truly living. 

Financial success or having many possessions is not a sin.  A flashy car or a large house is not inherently sinful.  However, when obtaining these things becomes the dominant factor of our lives to the exclusion of everything else, we are allowing the Word to be choked by the distractions.  The seed that the sower has spread, the seed of faith freely given us by God, is of the finest quality.  The rains have been plentiful. 

We heard in the psalm: “You care for the earth, give it water, you fill it with riches.  Your river in heaven brims over to provide its grain.”
Only two questions remain.  What kind of soil are we?  Are we willing to care for the sower's gift?

Somewhat reluctantly back in the U.S.  Got home Thursday after a smooth but still arduous flight.  Jet lag a lot better today than it was yesterday when I was not fit to be around man, beast, or a beer.  It will take a few weeks to get my new room in shape.  Talk with provincial in two weeks about the next step.  Several interesting possibilities.  

The photos are from the sacristies of both the Cathedral of St. Nicholas and the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, both in LJ approximately 500 yards apart.  

Thuribles against a wall in the Cathedral. 

Chalice and patens at the ready for Mass.

Partial view of a chandelier.

The light in the Franciscan church was perfect at 11 AM.  By 11:30 there was no further direct light on the altar. 

Standing at the entrance to the sacristy.  Had to tone the on the flowers down just a little bit. 

The pulpit and portion of the choir loft. 

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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