Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Foolish Sower & The Foolish Soil - Homily for the 15th Sunday in OT

Where does the Sower sow the seed? Is it just on the good soil? We hear that he sows everywhere—on the good soil and on the bad. This strikes me as odd… wasteful… foolish.

Usually when I hear this parable, I firstly think about what kind of soil I am and what I must do to become rich soil. But today I am struck by the foolishness of the Sower. He is sowing everywhere and I am tempted to say, “Golly, what a waste of good seed. What a foolish Sower. Why would he do such a thing?”

It’s a rhetorical question. But it does have an answer. And the answer comes when we ask God a simple question in return: Who or what is the seed?

The Seed

Jesus responds by saying that the seed is the Word. Ummm, ok. The Word. … Does that mean the Bible? The Gospel of John helps clear things up. In the first chapter, first verse we read:

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God….

The Word was God! So, wait: the seed is the word and the word is God. This means that the seed is God. Is this right? Is the Sower sowing…God?

Well, yes.

And John further qualifies and tells us who the Word is. He says:

 the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… (Jn 1:14)

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us? God becoming man… that’s Jesus!  So, let me get this straight: the seed is the word, the word is God, God became flesh… So that means…. the Seed is Jesus!

So when we hear about the Sower sowing seed into various kinds of soil, what is happening is that the Father is sowing Jesus into various kinds of hearts throughout the world.

The Sowing

That’s pretty helpful when we try to understand this parable. But I have an another question now: what does this word “sowing” really mean?

Well, what happens to seed when it is sown? What must happen in order for it to bring forth fruit? Jesus answers this at the beginning of Passion Week when He says, Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (Jn 12:24).

This means that the Sowing is the Father pouring forth His Son even unto death. Jesus is the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies—and by dying, bears much fruit.

This actually leads us to our first reading today. It said:

Just as from the heavens the rain and the snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be [that is, Jesus] that goes forth; my word [Jesus] shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent [Him].

The Father sends the Son like water from the heavens to make the earth fruitful; He sends His Son to give seed to the Sower, and bread (bread! Eucharist?) to the one who eats. And why? “to achieve the end for which I sent him” And what is the end which Jesus is sent to achieve? That at the harvest, you may have eternal life.

The Fool of a Sower

So, let’s return to the beginning. Does that Father sow only in the good soil? – in only those good souls who are like, “yeah, yeah, give me Jesus?” No, He sows everywhere!—even on the rocky soil where others tell Him that he won’t get anything out of sowing there. He pours forth His Son there too.

Let that sink in a for a moment….

God pours out his Son, gives Him up for death, pouring His blood out upon all of us here: both the sinner and the saint, whether you are the busy path or the hard rocky heart. And to what purpose: “to achieve the end for which I sent Him”—to bring you to heaven.

I had started this homily by wondering why God would be so foolish as to do this. It doesn’t seem so foolish anymore—we see that it shows the extent of His love. He wants everyone—every path, every rock, every field with thorns, every person of every kind of soul to have his love.

But… But not everyone responds! So isn’t the Father wasting good seed—in fact the best seed, His Son—by doing this? Yes. God is a fool.

He is a fool in love. And fools in love lavish the most expensive gifts on each other. And what could be more expensive than the Son? What more could God give to you? And if there was more, wouldn’t He give it to you?

What is our response to this?

To Bear Fruit

There was a Dominican Priest—his name was Jean Corbon. He lived in Beruit during the Lebanese civil war. As bombs were shaking his apartment, Father Corbon was doing something: he was writing the entire fourth part of the catechism—the section on Prayer (which really only deepens our appreciation of that section of the Catechism). That all said, Father Corbon was basically a spiritual Arnold Schwarzenegger and very much admired among priests. When I remember him, I remember one of the most powerful things I’ve ever heard a priest say. He said:

 “The most fruitful activity of the human person is to be able to receive God.”

More productive than meetings and work, more productive than investing, more productive than sports practice and getting sleep—more productive than anything: the most fruitful activity of the human person is to be able to receive God. When we receive Jesus into our lives, we are made capable of so much more than would could possibly imagine.

The question is, how? How do we receive Him? How do we transform a rocky heart, or a busy path of a heart, or a heart choked by the thorns of the world?

The answer: tilling and composting. I’m being serious.

Merciful Tilling

This insight came when I spoke with a few friends who had to literally transform their rocky, clay backyard soil into rich soil where they could plant and bear fruit. One of the things they said was a big help was tilling and composting. When they weeded their garden, those weeds and thorns went into the composter. When they had food that they didn’t eat from their table, it went into the composter. Add the heat of the sun, some daily care, and within a few months the composter was yielding rich soil.

Of course, my friends couldn’t just put the rich soil right on top of the clay that they had in their back yard (a good rain would wash the rich soil away). So, they had to till and break up the clay and work the rich soil in.

What does this mean for us? Well, sometimes we have to let God till us and break us up. And sometimes we have to spiritually compost.

God tills us by making us weak enough to receive him. Yes—weak enough to receive Him. It sounds foolish, but there is actually wisdom in this. When I’m strong, I think it’s all up to me. Or when I’m comfortable, I feel as though I have no need for Jesus and I become hard and unreceptive to Him. I need to become weak enough to receive. God’s spiritual tilling does this.

In fact, I once made this my prayer: “Lord, make we weak enough to receive you; break my rocky heart.”

I got a stomach flu that week. But during that flu, I prayed the hardest I had ever prayed. We do that right, when we are sick. We pray, “O God…. Oh…!” Ah, so now when we aren’t comfortable, we realize we need Him! “God, I’m sorry I forgot you… Can you help me now???”

This alerts us to the fact that sometimes when we want our fallen brothers and sisters to return to the faith, sometimes God will have to till and break them too—through an illness or a death or some kind of loss or disappointment. Do not dread this moment; it could be the tilling that opens them up to receive the faith. We call this a “severe mercy.” And sure: we don’t like to see people suffer; but sometimes it is necessary for their salvation.

Sacrificial Composting

The other way to get a good heart is spiritual composting. Spiritual composting is giving God whatever it is that keeps us from Him and saying, “Lord, I love you more than…” I love you more than my money; I love you more than my calendar; I love you more than my being comfortable. I love you more than whatever it is that keeps me from you or which tempts me to sin.” When we give God whatever it is that keeps us from Him and we allow him to break those things down, we are given in return a good, rich soil—a soil that can finally receive Jesus, a soil that can bear the weight of a yield of 30, 60, or 100-fold.

All who have been called to priesthood, religious life, or married life know this. Every married couple must come face-to-face with the decision of choosing either a comfortable lifestyle or a family full of life—which is often uncomfortable. One of these has to go into the composter. And only one will make us rich soil and bear fruit.

As a priest, there came a time when God asked: “Do you love me more than having a family of your own?” Now, I didn’t want to put this in the composter. I wanted to hold on to this possibility—you know, married, having three or four kids.... Eventually, I trusted and I put my plans in the composter and wouldn’t you know it, the Lord has yielded 30, 60, 100-fold in my life. I never expected what would come out. I don’t have 3 or 4 kids who hug me each morning-- when school is in session, I have 3 or 4 hundred.

And it's not just regarding life-decisions. If you’ve gone on a retreat, you know that feeling of going without so much of our electronics and anxieties; there, we realize how much we didn’t need them and how they have kept us from going deeper. Lent does the same thing.

You see, we worry about sacrificing because we believe that thing we sacrifice is lost forever or that we are being foolish. We are even told by others that we are wasteful or foolish.

Well, God promises and indeed shows us today that your sacrifice is not a waste! It will bear fruit! Fools in love will sacrifice anything for their love. And God will honor that foolish love!

So, the question is: for who or for what are we sacrificing? Whether we know it or not, we are already sacrificing some things over other things. Are they the right things? Are they the highest thing? Do they open us up to receive God? Do they make rich soil in your life so that He can plant Jesus in you and bear fruit in you?

"I love you more than anything else” He says. As we receive Jesus in the Eucharist—as He literally plants Himself in us—ask Him to show you how He wants to open your heart and transform you. Maybe He is waiting for your permission to till you; maybe He is waiting for you to compost that which keeps you from going deeper with Him.

Let us turn to Mary, the one who was made pure and holy by God’s love and who is the perfect soil, totally receptive to God, and who bore the most perfect of fruit: Jesus Himself and our salvation. Mary, help us to receive Jesus! Help us to bear great fruit!

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