We come to this 15th year [Sunday] in ordinary time. We listen to 3 very powerful scripture passages: one from Isaiah – and a very interesting one from Isaiah, because it factually passage at the end of the second book of Isaiah, just before the people are returning from exile. The reading from Romans began as great, for it speaks about the growing of all creation as it awaits the final resolution of God in regard to human history – all of history.
And then the parable. The disciples ask Jesus why do you use parables? They don’t understand them. They are trying to scratch their heads, figuring what is he talking about – this seed being thrown. Remember, it’s a very real image, because in those days, when they would go out and sow the seeds for planting, they didn’t do what we do today with our advanced agriculture and our technology explosion. We have all of these machines that plow the land and then plant appropriately with the right amount of space between each seed, and everything else that goes on. They used to have have a sack, satchel that they wore on their side, and they would go out and they would reach into that and throw the seeds. And after they threw the seed, they would come back with the oxen, and they would plow. And some of the seed would actually end up in the right place, but a good bit of the seed would end up in these other sites.
So I’m sure as they were gathered there in this very beautiful spot on a boat in the Holy Land, you would come to this place, right along the Sea of Galilee, and it was like an amphitheater where the people were gathered, and Jesus was sitting out in the boat teaching. I’m sure they’re all standing there, scratching their heads, saying, what is he talking about? Why is he teaching us about how to sow seeds? We know, that. That is why the disciples come to him and they ask, why did you use a parable? Speak directly to them.
But Jesus’ response – no, you need to use – and this is the first of what will be a series of parables presented in that Gospel – Jesus says, no, you need to use a parable, because you need to challenge the people. I’m not here to give you simple answers. I’m here to invite you to enter into the mind of God. And the way I do that is I use these parables, so that in a sense you will be challenged, and you will have to reflect. You will have to give thought to what I am saying, so you might understand and grow.
And that is why the reading from Romans is so appropriate for the reading from Matthew. Because the reading from Romans is about growth – about the growing – growing that goes on in creation at large, but in each and every one of u,s as we hope to deepen our understanding for what it means to live in Jesus, and in Jesus to be part of the Trinity, the community of God.
So Jesus in the parable is basically saying to us, where are you in your journey? What kind of soil are you? Are you the soil that is in the walkway, that does not get deep roots and will be quickly be extinguished? Are you in the rocky ground, where maybe they’ll be little growth, but will be quickly be choked off? Are you among the thorns, in the sense that thorns choke, but we choke by other pursuits, and so our other pursuits close out the Word of God, because we are more interested in the things of this world than we are the Word of God. Or are we in the good soil.
But you have to remember there’s no magic in the good soil. Know that when you plant in the good soil, there is a process that has to go on. It doesn’t – you don’t plant in the morning, and by the afternoon you are have nothing to do. You work at it. Plant, and then you have to nurture and care, you have to water, you have to turn the earth. You have to literally work in order that that which you planted will grow. And even as it is growing, you have to support it.
I planted – Fr. Bill will tell you – I planted tomatoes in the back of the rectory – behind the parish house – a beautiful planter was built, and we planted – I planted I think 5, 10 different tomato plants. I’m an Italian – you can’t have a summer if you don’t plant tomatoes. It’s such a work, no matter what’s going on outside.
So we planted, and planted them. And I said, oh, great. And I was watching – as they were growing, they were starting to bend over. So I got to go get the supports and tie them, so that again, they will be supported as they grow. And I will need to do that a number of times during the summer, particularly as they begin to show the flowers and fruit.
So again, the point is that even if you are in the good soil, you can’t just sit back. You have to work. And you have to work in growing, in both understanding, and most importantly, in action. Because the action – the action of living in the way of Christ, the action of living in the way of Christ, is how you grow in understanding. How you grow in that understanding …. Your hearts and your minds are open to the Kingdom.
Now, I would say there is great wisdom in that – great wisdom in the sense of it not only it applies to our life in Christ, but in every aspect of your life. We’re going through a situation like that right now – the persecution and the oppression of our Black brothers and sisters is not new. It’s been going on for over 400 years. And we’ve witnessed that – we’ve witnessed that in many different ways.
I remember when I started out in the work that I do now, as a teenager. We were running an assistance program for people living in housing in Brownsville. Deplorable housing conditions, and this African American elderly woman came one day, and she had sores. I said to her, “How did you get those sores?:
And she said, “Oh, we have rats in the apartment where I live, and I guess they bit me.”
I said, “Didn’t you object to that, didn’t you complain about it, didn’t you do any of those things?”
She said, “Well, I know who I am, you know my situation, and if I open my mouth, I would be out on the street.“
I just became very aware at that point, that there is something radically wrong in how we organize our society, how we put together our systems, particularly that people would have to live in those kinds of conditions. That’s just an isolated incident – because there have been many far more horrendous ones – a young boy from Chicago, Emmett Till, that incident.
So finally, it appears that at least some are awaking. But again, that awakening will be resolved, it will not be resolved by ripping down statues. Ripping down statues does nothing, except eliminate a source of memory. You would do much better to stand in front of those statutes, and reflect upon what they represent, and say, how do we get beyond them, what do we need to do so that we don’t repeat what that represents.
How do we grow? What is the hard work we need to do to grow into the kind of people, the kind of society, that is reflective of the Kingdom of God. That is what the Scriptures are talking about. Today in the hope that we find in the first reading, because God says, ultimately, the rain and the snow will come down, they’ll never come back until they boost what they want, and what their purpose is. You can’t frustrate God’s plan. You can stall it, you can stand in its way – and God knows human history – the history with them, standing in the way of God’s plan – and [God can] stop it from happening. God is a very patient God – God is a very patient God. He gives us the freedom, gives us the time. Pray that every day and every hour that our hearts and minds be open to the reality of his word. That reflecting, allowing that word to grow within us, we will become instruments – His Hands, and His heart, His feet, His eyes, His voice – in growing the kingdom of God.
But that’s why God has shared Himself with us, His disciples.