July 12, 2020 • Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Isaiah 55:10–11
Psalm: Psalm 65:10, 11, 12–13, 14 (Luke 8:8)
Second Reading: Romans 8:18–23
Gospel Acclamation: The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower. All who come to him will have life forever.
Gospel: Matthew 13:1–23
The word of God is likened unto the rain, the snow and the seed of grain in the readings for this fifteenth Sunday in ordinary time. And we are likened unto the earth and the ground. When moisture and seed are combined, new life begins and expands. The more moisture that is received, the more lush and fruitful the vegetation. That is almost a universal law, except were the soil is bad, exhausted, too salty or too alkaline or has too many weed seeds. I have lived in houses built on former farmland, and generally it produced weeds when it rained. Where plants can’t grow, the water may run off too fast, causing erosion, landslides and flooding.
God’s word likewise always has impact, but the sort of impact it has depends in part on the conditions of our hearts when it is proclaimed to us, and we bear some responsibility for that condition. When Pharaoh heard the word of God through Moses, his heart was hardened. The same thing happened when the word of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, appeared before the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Romans. Their hearts were hardened, and they crucified the Lord of all on a cross.
The First Reading compares the inevitable impact of rain and snow upon the earth, which is largely positive, providing beauty, seed for the sower and grain for the hungry with the word of God.
The word of God will always have impact on par with the moisture, and it will always accomplish what God intended in sending it forth, but the results, from our perspective appear less certain, hidden in the often inscrutable mystery of the interplay between God’s will and ours.
Usually, the response to the Psalm is taken from the same Psalm, but in this case it is taken from Luke’s account of the parable of the soils. It puts a qualifier on the general blessing and positive results of water upon the land and agricultural endeavors for which the Psalmist praises God. The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest. So the normally positive effects of the union of seed and moisture is to some extent determined by the condition of the soil upon which they fall. All is not as it should be on Planet Earth.
The Apostle Paul reveals a couple of things in this passage from the Book of Romans.
First, creation fell with us when we fell for the lies of Satan and became disobedient. It is the ultimate example of collateral damage. Creation itself was corrupted and subjected to futility. Creation’s fate is inseparably tied to ours, even as we perpetually try to deny it.
Second, God has glorious plans of restoration for us and for all His creation. As we rise, so shall creation. God is always rooting for us, even when we stubbornly refuse His will and grace. Even in His pronouncements of warning and judgment, He is wanting us to repent and turn to Him for His salvation.
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1–4)
The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower. All who come to him will have life forever.
For the Gospel reading, I will present our Lord’s own interpretation of the parable of the four soils for our meditation.
Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” (Matthew 13:18–23)
Only one type of soil produces a harvest. The one that hears the word of God and understands it. How do we make sure we are the fourth type? Well, if the question is a matter of concern to us, that is an exceptionally good sign already.
The first step is to hear it, to pay attention to it and give it time to sink in. Otherwise, we are the hard-trodden path, and Satan will quickly sweep it away.
Second, we need to develop our roots by going deep with Jesus in prayer and sacrament. We need to be rooted and grounded in love, as Saint Paul says. Jesus, through the Catholic Church, provides more abundant resources for doing so than any other church or ecclesial community that I encountered in a twenty-year search. We can’t do this on our own.
Third, we need to begin to develop the virtues, through obedience and exercise, by being involved in caring for others, spiritually and physically. That is the fruit. It flows outward towards others, love personified.
Fourth, if we keep putting one foot in front of the other, receiving and utilizing God’s channels of grace in union with His people, we will find ourselves having become the fourth kind of soil.
Feel free to add your observations and thoughts. May God bless our meditations upon His word.
“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” (Saint Francis of Assisi)