Saturday, July 5, 2014

Homily - 15th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

15th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-11           Second Reading: Romans 8:18-23            Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:1-23


A professor in a college English class said to his students, “If you will just take a new word and use it 10 times, it will be yours forever.” Whereupon, a young girl in the class looked dreamily out of the window and sighed, “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, …(10 times).”
Now, let us come to a rather serious illustration ...
A story is told about a famous first century rabbi named Rabbi Akiva. One day as Rabbi Akiva was shepherding his flock, he noticed a tiny stream trickling down a hillside, dripping over a ledge on its way toward the river below. Below was a massive boulder. Surprisingly, the rock bore a deep impression. The drip, drip, drip of water over the centuries had hollowed away the stone. Rabbi Akiva commented, “If mere water can do this to hard rock, how much more can God's Word carve a way into my heart of flesh?” Akiva realized that if the water had flowed over the rock all at once, the rock would have been unchanged. It was the slow but steady impact of each small droplet, year after year, that completely reformed the stone.

Today is the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the Scripture of Readings of today emphasize the constant and powerful action of the 'Word of God' to enlighten and to move our minds and hearts to believe in Him and to act accordingly. In the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah compares the power of the word of God with rain vis-a-vis its effect on us. Just as rain falls and makes the earth fertile and fruitful, so the word of God comes down to us and enriches our lives. If our lives are not enriched then we frustrate God. In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul refers to the fact that all humans and all creation suffer because of sin and he assures us that the present sufferings are nothing compared to future glory that awaits at the end of the process. In the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew, Jesus tells us 'The Parable of the Sower.' He emphasizes the variety of responses to the word of God. It is not due to God’s seed (word) that the harvest fails in some people’s lives, but the manner in which it is received. “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”

In the First reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we have one of the most beautiful and evocative passages of the Bible about the power and purpose of the word of God to give life to those who receive it. Through it the Prophet Isaiah brings a message of consolation to the people of Israel in exile as he urges them to be hopeful of future glory. He makes rain a symbol for the powerful word of God. Rain comes down from above and makes the earth fruitful; the earth produces a good harvest and also prepares the seed for future use; just so God’s word rains down and enriches the world. The world like parched earth is waiting for the rain of God’s word. The word of God has the same dramatic influence on the spiritual landscape. Their lives in exile were deprived of life and hope. All of that will change if they allow the word of God into their hearts. The prophet is confident that God’s word will find fertile ground in the hearts of the people and transform them into a people equipped to nourish the nations of the world spiritually. Even if they do not repent, God will still take the initiative for life. His divine word will not return to heaven without achieving the life-giving purpose. The prophet places before them a message of hope. He recalls the efficacious nature of God’s Word. Just as God spoke an efficacious word in the beginning to accomplish the work of creation, so should Israel trust in the continuing power of God’s Word to deliver them from exile.

Today's Gospel Reading marks the beginning of the third long discourse given by Jesus in the Gospel of St. Matthew and is a complex, metaphorical explication of the profound mystery of God’s powerful Word. Over the next few weeks, the Gospel readings will consist of the entire 13th Chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, a lengthy teaching discourse. This entire unit is sometimes called the 'Discourse in Parables.' Throughout this discourse, Jesus offers several parables to illustrate for his listeners what he means by 'the kingdom of heaven.'
There are three distinct parts in today's Gospel Reading: the parable, an interlude, and explanation of the parable. A way of looking at this division is to regard the parable as being close to the actual words of Jesus. This is followed by a theological interlude on 'hearing' and finally there is an interpretation of the parable producing a related but distinct lesson or message.
Jesus begins with 'The Parable of the Sower,' which appears rather straightforward. He gets his disciples thinking by telling them about a sower who is prodigal in the sowing of seed - he throws it all over the place. Some seed does fall in fertile soil but much is wasted. Seeds that miss the soil, are sown on the path, or are sown on rocky ground, or are sown among other plants will not grow. The surprise in the parable is the enormous yield of the seed that is sown on good soil. “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” In the parable itself the emphasis is on God (the sower) who works and produces results.
Jesus then explains his use of parables. Jesus seems to suggest that he uses parables to teach because the meanings of parables are not self-evident. The hearer must engage in some degree of reflection in order to comprehend the message of a parable. In this way, the medium - the parable - models the point of the parable of the sower. Those who are willing to engage themselves in the effort to understand will be rewarded by the discovery of the message and will bear fruit. This interlude or comment in between gives the key to our response and subsequent fertility of the seed.
So having provoked the disciples with the parable Jesus now explains it with reference to his own preaching of the Word. He has been very generous in teaching and performing miracles, reaching out to all sorts of people especially misfits and sinners. The interpretation of the parable puts the emphasis more on us (the soil) and the ways in which we can respond. The different types of soil in which the seeds are sown are metaphors for the disposition with which each individual hears the teaching about the kingdom of heaven. Some will be easily swayed away from the kingdom of heaven. Some will receive it for a time but will lose it when faced with difficulties. Some will hear the word but will then permit other cares to choke it out. Yet some will receive it well, and the seed will produce abundant fruit. “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”

The text we have today in the Second Reading is among the most well-known of this very famous Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. It describes the profound hope of the Christians who have engaged the messiness of life most fully. St. Paul sees all of creation as joined to humankind in being wounded by sin and in its present misery. We are God’s representatives in his marvelous creation, and human destiny is intricately interwoven with the world we live in - its sufferings, corruption and agony. This suffering is a sign of how much all creation is damaged by sin. At present, though, both humanity and nature suffer, but that is nothing compared to future glory that awaits at the end of the process. St. Paul asserts that even suffering and physical corruption, the messiest aspects of the created universe and human life, can be changed by God’s grace and the power of God’s hope-filled Spirit. Human words are inadequate, but God’s Spirit is so profound as to make up for our language's inadequacies. A believing Christian sees beyond the human reality and lives in human reality supported by a confidence in God’s power to save and redeem.

In the whole of Scripture God's word is not just a spoken word. It is a doing word, a creating, life-giving word. It is like a life-bearing seed. And where do we encounter that word? There is clearly, of course, for us one place in particular where God's word is more clearly experienced and that is in Jesus Christ. For Jesus is the Word of God. Everything that Jesus said, everything that Jesus did was God communicating to us through him.
Now, let us consider today's parable – 'The Parable of the Sower.' Here in this parable Jesus himself is the sower of the seed. He is the Eternal Word incarnate, provides the seed and sows it into the hearts of the hearers in order to provide a harvest of thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold. The harvest depends on the fertility of the soil/soul where it gets planted in. But the Word himself will not make the soil fertile; it just depends on how much seed falls on the soil and how receptive the soil is to the Word. The Father provides Jesus with His Divine Word for the sowing, which in turn bears fruit unto eternal life for those who are willing to listen.
Again, Jesus, the Word of God, was well aware that humankind was adept at not listening. He knew, because he spoke to crowds of people, and many, especially those who should have listened most carefully, were unwilling to hear what he had to say. That’s why he often said things like, 'Listen, anyone who has ears.' Jesus described four types of listeners, three of whom were not listeners. They were the hard-surface, the dusty-surface and the cluttered surface types. People who either failed to hear him at all, or those who heard him but had their hearts somewhere else. The hard-surface types were perhaps like the religious people who thought they had no need to listen to Jesus, because they already had the truth, and were not going to allow him or any prophet to change their minds, especially if it meant changing their privileged status. Maybe the other two types were like the people who said they would follow Jesus, but got a rather negative response from him because he could tell that they were not really committed. But for all the reasons why some people might not hear the Word of God, there are those who do listen, and are transformed. They may not look very good material for welcoming God’s kingdom, but they are used by God and they do far more than they seem capable of.
Finally, we are the soil. And what kind of soil are we on which the seed, the Word of God, is sowed? Are we disposed to God's word and therefore embrace it, allow it to grow in us and make us the person God wants us to become? Or are we so indisposed to His word that we do not even allow it to sprout in us? Let us not be pessimistic about ourselves; we have all of the failings which are represented by the hard surface, the dusty surface and the cluttered surface, but we can have hope, because God who chooses to use us, is the miracle worker who even in our hearts’ poor soil can bring forth more good than we could ever have imagined. Let us keep in mind always, “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” And this is the Good News of today.


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