Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23 ]
It has been said that if we wish to teach people about things which they do not understand, we must begin from things which they do understand. The parable opens a person's mind and eyes by beginning from where one is and leading on to where one is called to be. It compels interest in a person by means of a story. It allows one to discover truth for himself; then he is less likely to forget it quickly.
And as today's gospel shows us, the parable conceals truth from those who show contempt prior to investigation. It puts the responsibility fairly and squarely on the individual. It reveals truth to the one who hungers and thirsts for truth; it conceals truth from the one who does not wish to see the truth.
In a parable, the truth comes to us as a word that we hear and then must decide how to react. One who hears and does not understand is simply not hungry and thirsty for truth. They have set their heart on something else. Because of attachments, they are not free.
Now, as monks, and as monastic friends and guests, we might hunger for this truth “so that free from fear … we might serve [the Lord] in holiness and justice all the days of our life in His presence.” And with this desire we face some of the difficulties that Jesus describes today. The difficulties center on our freedom to take the action in response to the word.
First, we might talk about the word with great fondness, yet take no action on it. We might still be attached to our own comfort. We might be sad that the good takes effort.
A second way of responding might be to do all but “the one thing necessary.”
We might still be attached to our own reasoning. When the thorns of adversity come up we decide it would not be reasonable to sacrifice what the occasion calls for. Or we might try to baptize our attachment by acknowledging it, but pointing to all the good that we do otherwise. In adversity, reason is often unable to appreciate the sufficiency of grace.
A third response is simply to abandon ourselves to God and let Him do with us what He will. To do this we must be free. And to be that free we must be devoted to something greater for its own sake.
Such devotion is where the roots must lie. It is devotion to something for its own sake that has the deepest formative effect upon us. Rooted in this we are nurtured in a way that makes possible some freedom from the self-centeredness of Original Sin.
I'll say it again: we are nurtured … This freedom from self and for the sake of the Other is essentially the reception of a gift. It is received in the soil of the heart. The word of God is the experience of the highest-value-attainable by people. It awaits the depth of our response. If it is received as something that makes us feel good, in other words, in the shallowest soil of the heart, adversity will cause it to wither. We are familiar with our American culture as a well-worn path of things valued according to how they make us feel.
If the word is received as something that gives us status, then that, too, will wither and the rocks of other status-conferring experiences will prevent its growth. We are all familiar with that, too.
It is when the thing of highest value, the word of God, affects the deepest soil of our hearts that we are able to live for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Again, today's gospel is telling us that an experience affects us according to the height of the value and the depth of our response to it. When that experience is of the word of God, it will leave traces in our hearts that will far outlast the actual hearing of it.
“Blessed are your eyes because they see; and your ears because they hear.”
Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Deut 30:10-14; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37]
In the Spring of 2004, I was taking part in the Monastic Formator's Program in Rome, with thirty other students from twenty one different countries, and one day, after a festive meal, my class mates and I were invited to play a game. In this game, you are given a cap to wear, and on the front of the cap above the visor, is a label that states who you are. Everyone in the room can see who you are and you can't see who you are. (For those of us who live in the cloister, this scenario is not uncommon!) After the caps are passed out, you sit down across from a person whose task it is to help you guess who you are by giving you clues. The process is timed, and the person who most quickly Leads you to guess correctly who you are is the winner of the game. To make things more interesting, the coordinator of the Monastic Formator Program, Fr. Mark Butlin, was given a cap whose label read: “Fr. Mark Butlin.” A word of warning: If you ever find yourself in the position of having to describe to a person the person he is, you want to proceed with caution, this is a delicate operation.
Besides being fun, I found the game instructive. It demonstrates very concretely a fact of life that we are sometimes apt to forget: namely, that, coming to true knowledge of who I am is not something I can do alone. Before any person says: “I know who I am,” or “This is just who I am,” they need to stop and ask themselves: “How did I discover who I am?” “From whom did I learn who I am?” The mystery of who I am is not found in myself in a place by myself. I learn my true identity only by interacting with others, and I learn most about myself from those who are really different from me.
In our day, when the institution of marriage is having to be defended, one often hears people speak of “the complimentarity of the sexes” as being a foundational human value, but it is not always explained why this is such a fundamental human value. The truth is, male and female ARE “complimentary”, because two persons in a male/female encounter are in fact strengthened, confirmed, built up, made to grow, in a word: “complimented” by the presence of the other who is radically and irreducibly different; incarnate in that radically different other kind of body which informs every minute aspect of their human experience. To know, to befriend, to make love to one who is radically other IS complimentary and up-builds the human person in a way that knowing, befriending, making love to another self can never do. One could say, the debate about what constitutes authentic marriage, is a debate about where my human identity comes from; how it is discovered, and how my human identity is made strong, healthy, and luminous with God's light, which is the light of Truth. The truth is, the secret of who I am is held in trust by that other who is radically, irreducibly different from me. It is only from the other that I can receive, as by a gift, true understanding of who I am. This is counter-intuitive, it is a mystery, and it can be a difficult lesson for us to learn. I think it is the lesson Jesus is inviting us to revisit in today's gospel.
In the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” a Jew set upon by robbers, lying in a ditch, near death, desperately in need of help, is ignored, first by a priest and then by a Levite, both of whom are supposed to be good Jews, and models of what it means to be a Jew. But the man lying in the ditch, and the Jews listening to the parable don't discover what a real Jew is until a Samaritan shows up. The Samaritan, taking pity on the man in the ditch, ministers to him, and thereby portrays for everyone what it means to be a real Jew. But the Jews despised Samaritans, who they regarded as strange and irreligious. They refused even to associate with them. It is precisely the fact that a Samaritan is the last person in the world a Jew would ever interact with, let alone learn from about how to be a better a Jew, that makes the Parable of the Good Samaritan such a surprise and a revelation. It is a revelation of how the deepest truth of myself is discovered in the very one who I regard as the opposite of myself.
All of this makes me think about the person of Jesus, who being the God man, a fully human divine person, is possibly that person more different from me than any other. Might this mean that Jesus has more to teach me about myself than any other person?
An elderly and very wise Carmelite nun I once met told me one day: “If it turned out that Jesus was an imposter and a liar; if I ever found out that Jesus was not who he said he was . . . I would not know who I am.” Listen to what she is saying. “If Jesus were an imposter and not who he said he was, I would no longer know who I am.” This woman is confessing that her deepest grasp of her own identity is grounded in the truth of who Jesus is as a person. This insight astonished me, and I wonder, in this world where Jesus is so often spoken of as just one religious figure among many others,I wonder how many people today realize that the truth of who they are is a secret kept from them, hidden in Jesus Christ, whose eyes, at every moment, are fixed on them, but whose gaze they do not return, and so are blinded to the truth of who they are.
As an experiment, you might try meditating on today's gospel by imagining yourself walking along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and discovering a man lying naked and bleeding in the ditch, ask yourself: “Who is that? Who is that stranger in the ditch? Well, I am certain of this: He is a stranger, nobody I know, and nothing like myself. I am still standing up straight, I'm still wearing my clothes, I am not crying, and bleeding, and begging every passerby for mercy and help. This stranger is nothing like me. Who is he?” Ask yourself this, and then, in your imagination, draw closer to the ditch and the man lying there until your eyes and his have met, and when you discover it is Jesus lying in the ditch, when your eyes have met, try not to turn away. Let Jesus' gaze hold your gaze. Look into Jesus' eyes, and he will share with you the secret of who you are.
Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary time
[Scripture Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Eph 1:3-14; Mk 6:7-13]
I was very pleased and heartened by the outcome of our community's recent meetings with Fr. Paul Philibert. We determined that two of the most important things we seek in preparing for our forthcoming abbatial election are unity and passing on our way of life. We see participation as the key to harmony. We are confident that our way of life, relying on the grace of God, will lead men who are willing “to leave everything” to an authentic love of God. These are signs of a healthy community; these are signs of a community with a clear sense of mission.
Today's gospel is about mission. The very first words Jesus spoke to his followers after His resurrection were “Peace. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” It is the mission of Jesus that the Father's love becomes present and perceptible in ways that make a difference in the lives of His people. In today's gospel and in the gospel of John 17 that we read at Vigils of St. Benedict, we see that this mission requires the unity of the disciples, and we see that its object is to pass on the good news of the Father's love and care for humanity.
Mission is not an optional extra added to Christian existence; mission constitutes Christian existence. It is first a personal call. God creates each person with a particular idea of how he or she fits into His plan. The person has particular gifts, life experiences, and understandings of those experiences that suit him for the mission. This is what we mean when we say that we are called by name. We are not called by category, ethnic, diagnostic, or any other. Surrendering ones natural capacities to this service of God is how we find ultimate fulfillment in this life. One's mission makes him a person. It is for this mission that one is granted holiness and that holiness is demanded of him.
To follow one's mission is to become Christ-like in some sense. Conformity to mission is the same as conformity to Christ. What affected Him must affect us. This requires the work of the Holy Spirit whose task is to “unself” us; to guide and comfort us in the self-emptying that makes us available to the Father. This process of unselfing will cause change in what affects us and thus changes in our behavior that others will see. It will, hopefully, lead them to belief and trust in the Fathers love.
We know we are living our mission when our personal truth becomes identical with God's truth. Living this mission, then, is living in the truth. Living in the truth is humility. Thus, humility is first and foremost living the truth of our mission to spread God's love. A means to this end is to know the truth about oneself as measured against ones mission. So the apostles first preached repentance.
At the very core of mission is the task of doing not one's own will, but the will of the sender. Thus, the goal or content of Jesus' mission is His “hour,” His passion and resurrection. This is not an extreme example of mission; this is the norm. For us to devote ourselves so entirely to mission we must have a change of heart. The Steps of Humility show us how to consent to the Spirit's “unselfing” by repenting of our varied forms of self-will and self-seeking. The object of repentance is not God, but our bad acts that have sought self to the exclusion of others. We repent before God.
Repentance begins with the experience of pain. It proceeds to the realization that we were free to do other than what we did. And it is the realization that we, not others, not society, not genetics, we were responsible for our actions. Repentance goes beyond mere regret for bad acting when we acknowledge the principle, the GOOD that we violated and decide to let that Good affect us in the future. It is then that we have a change of heart. It is then that what affected Jesus begins to affect us.
Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 55:10f; Rom 8:18-23; Mt. 13:1-23]
A tendency noted during the past few years is for certain political pundits to become so popular, they leave the radio or television network that made them famous and go into business for themselves. Howard Stern, Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann, have all gone this route. It’s a curious thing to watch: an individual made famous as the champion of a cause, eventually becomes almost exclusively associated with a particular news network like Fox News and then, finally, just up and leaves to set up shop for himself as a sort of movement, network, and mega-personality all rolled into one. The three cases above suggest that a person developing his career along these lines can become very rich. Interestingly, an individual who becomes a cause unto himself, end ups exercising less influence on public opinion.
This raises an interesting question: “When someone like Glenn Beck speaks on television, where does the power of his words come from? Do his words influence people because he is giving voice to a movement; a rising nation wide consensus of opinion? Or, do his words influence people because he is—promoted by a gigantic television network like Fox News? Or, do his words influence people because he is—Glenn Beck? Where does the power of words come from?”
Brothers and sisters, this question is really important. If you understand where the power of words actually comes from. Then you are able to judge when words are powerful and when they are not. If you heard me say the words: “When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing,” you would conclude you were listening to a mean spirited imbecile. In the mid-nineteen thirties, when Fr. Charles Coughlin, spoke these words, a whole nation was listening because, Fr. Coughlin was, at that time, an extraordinarily influential public speaker, and a lot of people thought these were very powerful words. They were mistaken. These are throw-away words, so bereft of significance or value, it had been better for us all if they had never been spoken.
Listen to this great American quote: “That’s part of American greatness, is discrimination. Yes, sir. Inequality, I think, breeds freedom and gives a man opportunity.” That little pearl of wisdom is offered by Mr. Lester Maddox, whom most of you here have probably never heard of. I lived in the Deep South for twenty years and can testify that for a while, during the sixties and seventies, Lester Maddox had a constituency broad enough to spur speculation that he might be a candidate for President. Believe it or not, forty years ago, a lot of Americans considered Lester Maddox a pretty convincing guy.
Brothers and sisters, we need to know where the power of words come from so that when large numbers of people around us become mesmerized by a man’s voice and insist that his words are powerful, it will be clear to us—they are not.
So, where does the power of words come from? In today’s gospel parable, Jesus describes a sower, a farmer, out in his field sowing seeds, walking up and down the field Throwing seeds in every direction. Some seeds fall on rocky ground; some on fertile soil. Those that fall on rocky ground spring up quickly, but are scorched by the sun and die because they have little soil. But the seed that falls on good soil produces a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times as plentiful as what was sown.
What if the Sower was the Word of God, Jesus Christ? And what if the seeds he was throwing in every direction, were the words that you and I speak? Think about that. I would like to suggest that this parable gives us insight into where the power of words comes from. Words that are powerful, brothers and sisters are words whose source
Is the only begotten Son of God who is THE WORD of God, who is Love. When a word spoken by you or I manifests real and enduring power, that is because it is a word of Love, planted in us, and cultivated, by The Word, Jesus Christ who is the voice of God in the world. When we give speech to the Word that is Jesus, then our word is powerful, and more: it is transformative; it can change the world. But The Word that is Love, can sometimes fall on a heart that is rocky, ungrateful, frozen by hate, or oblivious. In a heart that is hard, The Word of Love finds no soil and it dies. Now, it would be wonderful if, when the Word of God died in a person, they couldn’t talk anymore—but that’s not how life works. Make no mistake, a person in whom the Word of God is dead, has nothing to say, but he can talk for hours, and not only talk for hours, but convince a surprising number of people that he has something to say.
Brothers and sisters, Love who created us out of nothing; Love who breathes life and love into us and so sustains us in being at every moment; this same breath that is Love has formed a Word who is Jesus Christ whose power to speak gives us power to speak. And if you would like a demonstration of that truth, listen to a monk from New Melleray Abbey, a nobody who spends his days making caskets, speak to you some of the most powerful words you have ever heard: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has today been given to you—but it is not given to them. Whoever has, will be given more. Whoever does not have, even what he has, will be taken away.”
Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary time
[Scripture Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Eph 1:3-14; Mk 6:7-13]
How can we be Christian missionaries today? Being one of the first missionaries, one of the twelve apostles, was especially hard. They suffered for following Christ, and most of them died as martyrs. Thomas à Kempis writes, “Jesus has many lovers of the heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of his cross. He has many desirous of consolation, but few of tribulation. He finds many companions of his table, but few of his fasting. All desire to rejoice with him, few are willing to endure anything for him, or with him. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup. Many reverence his miracles, few follow the ignominy of his cross. Many love Jesus so long as no adversities befall them, many praise and bless him so long as they receive any consolations from him; but if Jesus hides himself and leaves them but a little while, they fall either into complaining or into too much dejection of mind.“1 The apostles began as lovers of the kingdom, wanting the rewards without the labor. Jesus had to form and train them for the difficult vocation of being his missionaries.
Imagine Jesus calling you to go out and preach repentance to strangers in distant places the way he sent his apostles. What do you need to get ready? Well, first your car keys, then enough money, a traveling bag with several changes of clothes, some quick energy snacks, your cell phone and a laptop. But Jesus says, “Wait, you won't need car keys because you're going to walk. Take a staff instead. And forget the money, leave it behind, you're going to beg for a place to stay. Keep your jogging shoes but don't take any extra clothes or food. All you need is some holy oil to anoint the sick. Sorry about the cell phone and laptop, those have to stay behind, too. Now go, preach repentance and cast out demons.” The apostles gave up more than their fishing nets when they chose to follow Christ are share in his mission.
A story is told about the great Protestant pastor, Albert Schweitzer. He was a theologian and a physician who gave his life as a missionary doctor in west central Africa. He writes, “I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.“2 In 1952 he received the Nobel Peace Prize because of his special “Reverence for Life.” He writes, “My fundamental principle of morality is reverence for life, namely, that goodness consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life; and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.” He showed his own reverence for life by building and operating a hospital in central Africa. One day dignitaries of a European city were waiting to welcome him when the first class passengers got off the train. But Albert Schweitzer wasn't among them. They waited while the second-class passengers disembarked. Still no sign of him. Finally, they saw him coming out of third-class carrying his own suitcase. A city official asked him, “Why are you traveling third-class?” Albert Schweitzer replied, “Because there is no fourth-class.” Being a missionary for Christ is a happy but demanding way of life.
To evaluate a prospective missionary, a pastor tested him as follows. He called the candidate at 3 a.m. in the morning and asked him to come to his office right away for a special interview. Then he kept him waiting until 8 o'clock. Finally the pastor arrived and said, “Let's begin. Please spell the word love,” which he promptly did. “Now, what day is Christmas on?” The applicant replied, “December 25th.” “Very good,” said the pastor, “You have passed my examination. I will recommend you to the board of admissions.” Meeting with the board he said, “This man has all the qualifications of a good missionary. First, I tested his selflessness by asking him to come for a 3 a.m. appointment. He left his warm bed to come out in the middle of the night without a word of complaint. Next, I tested his patience by making him wait five hours to see me. An ill-tempered person would have complained and gone off in a rage. He didn't. Then I tested his humility by asking questions any child could have answered. He did not take offense. I recommend him highly and without any reservations for his selflessness, his patience, his humility and perseverance.” Do you have the spirit of a missionary?
In one of the Peanuts comic strips, little Linus listens to Charlie Brown's younger sister, Sally, as she boasts about her religious zeal and her potential as a missionary. She says, “I could be a terrific evangelist. Do you know that kid who sits behind me in school? I convinced him that my religion is better than his.” Linus asks, “How did you do that?” Sally replies, “I hit him with my lunch box.” Crazy? Yes, but replace her lunch box with guns and bombs and remember how common it is for people to settle differences with weapons of violence. Charity and truth are not well served by weapons. Rather, missionaries bring Jesus' love to others, his healing oil for the sick, and his powerful word to cast out demons.
Last Tuesday Pope Benedict XVI published a letter to all people of good will, an encyclical titled “Charity in Truth.” He teaches that all Christians are “called by God's love to seek and work for the benefit of everyone”. Being missionary is essential to being Christian. We all need to be missionaries, for it is only in union with others that Christ unites us with himself.3 It's not easy, as St. Paul writes, because true “love is patient and kind, it is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” .
Pope Benedict writes that the question of social justice, of loving others in truth, has become an anthropological question, that is: how do we understand human life? In vitro fertilization, embryo research, cloning, abortion, eugenic programming of births, euthanasia, and drugs, have become issues divorced from charity and truth. As Christians we are commissioned by Christ to bring wisdom and love into the development of all that is true, good, and beautiful in the human community.4 We are Christian missionaries when we seek respect for life and religious freedom, steady employment and the common good, international cooperation and responsible stewardship of natural resources, helping the poor and migrants, and forming a unity of nations in charity and truth. Pope Benedict teaches that development of the human community needs “Christians with their arms raised to God in prayer” . A story is told about a famous Jesuit preacher whose sermons converted people by the hundreds-then it was revealed to him that those conversions were not due so much to his eloquence, as to the prayers of a lay brother kneeling in a side chapel praying for his success. Prayer is our common mission.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus writes, “One day I was pondering over what I could do to save souls. … A phrase from the Gospel showed me … 'Pray the master of the harvest to send out laborers.' Jesus has such a love for us, that he wants us to share with him in the salvation of souls. He wants to do nothing without us. He waits for the prayer of little souls to save others, … even a sigh from your heart!“5 Rejoice, for we can show our missionary love for others by prayer!
Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23]
One day, a farmer went out to sow. Some of the seed he sowed fell on the footpath; some on rocky ground; some among thorns, and none of these seeds bore any fruit. That does not necessarily mean there is something wrong or bad about the footpath; the rocky ground or the thorn bushes. A footpath is good, and makes itself useful to men and women who use it every day to run their important errands. Travelers passing by on big horses or pulling heavy wagons, are grateful for the humble service of that hard rocky ground which holds up so steadfastly and so firmly beneath the burden laid upon it day after day. There’s nothing wrong with rocky ground. And the thornsyou really can’t find fault with them either; not when you notice how expertly they perform their special task; something you appreciate when you notice the splendid array of delicate beautifully colored flowers usually found cowering in the shadow of a thorn bush. Thorns are okaythere’s nothing wrong with thorns. And so, the footpath, the rocky ground and the thorn bushes are all good; all useful; each fulfilling it’s special purpose as God ordained. And the seed, of course, the seed the farmer sowed is goodit’s best there is. Because it was sown by a farmer who is simply the best there is. The seed, the footpath, the rocky ground, the thorn bushthey are all good, and that’s a mystery. But the greatest mystery of all is that though he sowed all that good seed on footpaths, on rocky ground, and thorn bushes and all these things were in themselves goodand even though, some of the seed he sowed fell on good soil, the sower himself came to a terrible and tragic end. That’s the real mystery. The mystery is that when some of the seed planted by that good sower, fell on good soilvines grew up; very strong and sinewy vines which spread along the ground and wound their way up and around the legs of the sower until he couldn’t walk, and he fell down; fell flat on his face in the mud, and got mud in his eyes which made them sting, until the vines at last those good vines, planted by that good sowerthrottled him; choked the life out of him, and caused him to die a terrible death, all alone; frightened and stifled by the heat of the day. Vines did this; good vines planted by the good sower himself. That, brothers and sistersis a mystery.
If my rendering of the famous parable of the sower strikes you as a little odd, that’s because I rewrote it in light of the course Jesus life actually took in the world. Jesus is the sower; the seed he sowed that fell on good soil were men and women who heard the gospel message and took it in; became his followers, and in timebetrayed himevery last one of them; leaving him to suffer a torturous and humiliating death all alone. And these people who betrayed Jesus were good; made good by God; made in God’s own image. They were people like you and I stumbling through life, doing the best we can, and so often getting it wrong. And because we are sinners, every once in a while, getting it really terriblyunbelievably wrong.
The story of Jesus is the story of God’s defeat and humiliation at the hands of men and women; men and women like you and I. Jesus, God incarnate, ventured to make a home among people like us; he came as a stranger; moved into our neighborhood, and though he was all loving; and only loving; though he was love incarnate, he met enemies everywhere, so that, by the time he died, everyone he knew was acting like his enemies. But the deepest mystery of all is that these same terrible enemies of God were made by Godthey were made by God, and God doesn’t make junkGod’s enemies were made in His own image. They were sinners, their choices were evil, but their natures were good, because God created them goodthe best you will find anywhere; images of God each one. Such is the mystery of the inalienable dignity of the enemies of the Lord.
We are told, in psalm 37, “The enemies of the Lord will vanishlike the beauty of the meadows!” Like the beauty of the meadowsGod’s enemies vanish. The psalmist could have said: “Like cow dung covered by the first snowfallGod’s enemies vanish.” Or – “Like a phlem ball spit into the vast blue seaGod’s enemies vanish!” He did not. He said: “God’s enemies vanishlike the beauty of the meadows.” Brothers and sisters, the demise of God’s enemies is something infinitely more mysterious than the demise of YOUR enemies, because God’s enemies were created by God; created out of nothing and fashioned magnificently by God Himself in His own likeness, and that makes the sinful self-annihilation of a human being, the most awesome; the most wondrously strange spectacle in the whole universesomething like the beauty of a Spring meadow in full bloom disappearing before your eyes. Few people in history have been so clear as we are today about who the enemies of God are. We have been blessed for eight years with a president and an administration that has made all that so clear for us. We have become deadly certain about the status of certain people as enemies of God, and don’t seem distracted by the fact that those same people are themselves condemning the enemies of God, and pointing at us. I wonder if we who are disciples of Jesus Christ need to spend some time pondering the fate of Jesus the good sower; Jesus, who met his demise at the hands of the enemies of God; creatures he made; made in God’s image. Maybe it is time for us to ask Jesus himself to teach us about the mystery, the enduring mystery of the enemies of God.
Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23]
It can be a rather disconcerting experience to sit down for an appointment with a psychologist, and have him begin the session by turning to you anxiously and saying: “Pardon me butI wonder if I could get your advice on something.” That’s exactly what happened to me one day many years ago as a junior monk at Holy Spirit Abbey in Georgia. About six of us monks had been meeting once a week with a psychologist who was helping us communicate better with each other. One week he shows up and opens our meeting with the words: “Brothers, excuse me but, I really need to talk to some monks about something that happened to me today.” He was very upset. It seems he had been asked to testify in court on behalf of a young man charged with assault who denied responsibility for the crime due to trauma suffered from living with his extremely dysfunctional family. By way of preparing his testimony, the psychologist had arranged, that day to visit the young man’s family at their home. He was quite unprepared for what he saw when he got there, and it profoundly shocked him. But the real interior crisis began when the little boy appeared, the defendant’s younger brother about five years old, whom he watched playing amidst his alcoholic, violently abusive family. All the psychologist’s training told him the little boy, born into this family, had virtually no chance of growing up happy or healthy, and would probably be in prison before he was twenty one. Turning to us monks, the psychologist said: “Please, help me to understand why God would abandon to such a miserable fate this innocent little boy.”
The meaning of this morning’s gospel parable about the sower and the seeds, is provided in the gospel itself: Jesus is the sower; the seed is the word of God spoken to human hearts. And yet, in light of the very urgent and disturbing question put to us monks by our psychologist, this parable might be read in another way.
Each and every human being born into the world is a word of God. You are a sacred word spoken by God; a new word; an utterance God never spoke before and will never speak again. You are a word spoken by Goda word that is thrown; thrown by God like a seed into this troubled world, and God can throw you toward any point on the compass, into any one of an infinite variety of life circumstances, and you have no control over which direction you are thrown or where you land.
When God the sower took you and I in hand, lucky seeds that we are, he threw us in a good direction and we landed in America. Not a bad place to land. Growing up in America, we had enough to eat, sufficient clothing and shelter; a chance to get an education. We didn’t go to bed at night worried that our house might be bombed, or that masked government soldiers might break into our house in the middle of the night and take our father away. We lucky seeds landed in good soil; a land where a human being can grow up in peace, and flourish and have a chance to make something of himself. And yet, even in America, you can land in the wrong place. God the Sower can throw you anywhere. You might land in a house with a parent or two who are alcoholics, or in a family who neglects or abuses you, or an inner city housing project where children fall asleep every night listening to the sounds of sirens and gunfire. You might be the little boy seen by our psychologist, who landed in a cold rocky place where he had little chance of becoming a healthy loving human being. And that’s life, because, as our parable says: “The Sower went out to sow, and he hurled seeds in every direction; some fell on good soil, and – some fell on rocks.” And if you don’t think that’s fair, well . . . talk to the Sower.
Is it possible the little boy seen by our psychologist, might actually be a wasted seed forsaken by God? It wouldn’t be the first time this accusation was made of God. Jesus, His only begotten Son, dying on the cross cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But if Jesus himself felt at one time he’d been forsaken by God, then it would seem Jesus and this little boy are orphans together; the boy something like Jesus’ little brother, and if this is soif that boy is Jesus’ own little brother in forsakenness, does that reveal to us something about the boy’s future?
There are seeds that in the beginning were held in God’s loving hand, beloved, secure, and full of potential, who, it seems, on the day they were born, were thrown by God in the wrong direction: on to footpaths, among thorns and brambles and so came to nothing. They are wasted seeds, and in our world there are millions and millions and millions of them. Footpaths, dark city streets, and the broad highways of this world are covered with wasted seeds, by all appearances, good for nothing. Is that the end of the story?
The writing of the scriptures is complete, we can’t tamper with it. Still, this story may not yet be over because, the canon of scripture though unchangeable is something like a cannon on the battlefield: it’s open at one end, and the fire inside it, explodes out the open end; explodes into life; into your life and my life unfolding right now. And so the story of the sower and the seeds is not over. Bursting forth from the page into life, the story continues, and in a marvelous, unexpected development, those wasted seeds begin talking to each other. “Hello?” says one wasted seed, “Can anyone hear me?” “Well I’m lying here in the street right beside you. I guess I can hear you!” says another wasted seed. “Ohhello there!”, says the first, “And what’s your name?” “My name is Frank, but nobody’s called me Frank for years. Those who know me best, call me: “just another wasted seed”.
Every night, all over the world, in the back rooms of community centers and church basements there are gatherings called “Twelve Step” recovery meetings where the story of the sower and the seeds continues as wasted seeds talk to each other. If you want to, you can listen in on them. I recommend it. I recommend that you listen to wasted seeds talking. From them, you will learn the answer to the psychologist’s question. Listen to them and they will tell you: “The place I was thrown by God was not the wrong place. I love that place as my very own; my own because it is the place I discovered the truth about myself, and discovering that truth met the Lord Jesus in person, himself suffering and humiliated, and suddenly all unexpected and undeserving I was shown the very face of the infinite God filled with enduring love. And there is something more. In that place among thorns and brambles, I also discovered the rest of the human race whom I realize I love, and with whom I feel intimately unitedall of them, rich and poor, privileged and forsaken, I embrace all of them as my brothers and sisters every time I say in truth: “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.“