A reflection on the Mass readings for Sunday, July 12, 2020.
If Jesus walked among us today, I wonder what parable he would preach? Amidst the pandemic, the social unrest, the racial inequalities, the dehumanization of the human person, the degradation of the environment, what parable would Jesus use? The use of parables to teach faith lessons was one of the most brilliant strategies that Jesus employed. He used imagery and analogies from daily life in these parables. Parables by nature are open-ended. By this, I mean that a hearer can draw multiple meanings from a single parable. For that matter, a parable never runs out of meanings. That is why the two-thousand-year-old parable of the Sower and the Seed continues to be highly relevant even today.
Scripture scholars tell us that there was a surprise element in the parable of the sower and the seed that relates to the agrarian practices of Jesus’ time. In Jesus’ parable, the seeds fell on various kinds of soils. In reality, this was not the usual practice of the Palestinian farmer. The typical farmer in Jesus’ time was poor. He did not have seeds to waste. He would be careful not to let the seeds fall on thorny, rocky, or unfertile soil. He could only afford his seeds to fall on the ground that would yield the optimum fruit.
The fact that in Jesus’ parable the seeds fall on various kinds of soils is the surprise element. It is an insight into the generosity of God. In another place in the same gospel, Jesus says that God makes the rain fall on the good and bad alike, and the sun to shine on the just and the unjust (Mt 5:45). Again, this is a reference to the generosity of God. In a world that makes distinctions between races and people, between rich and the poor, between immigrants and citizens, between religions and creed, between nations and ideologies, the parable of the sower and the seed tells us that God makes no distinctions. The seed of God’s Words falls on all kinds of soil. Salvation is offered not only to the privileged but to the whole world. God is good and God’s generosity is limitless. From this perspective, the racial, ethnic, nationalist turmoil is indicative of our refusal to treat each person as generously as God treats us.
There a second surprise element to Matthew’s narration of the parable. Sandwiched between the narration of the parable to the crowds and the explanation of the parable later to the disciples is the question the disciples ask Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Scripture scholars conclude that perhaps this section is Matthew’s commentary on his community. Matthew’s community was a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Moreover, with the Temple destroyed, it was becoming increasingly clear that Jesus’ ministry was rejected by the Jewish religious establishment. On the other hand, the Gentile church was showing great promise. Hence, Matthew’s words in Jesus’ mouth, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand” (Mt 13:13).
The surprise element in the parable is this – that the fertile soil, Israel, failed to bear fruit. On the other hand, the Gentiles were receiving the gospel and bearing fruit a thirty, a sixty, and a hundredfold. Ultimately, what will save us is not the fact that we are fertile soil – that we are baptized, Catholic, and church-going Christians – but rather, that our faith bears fruit! Matthew lays out the fruit that Jesus expects his followers to bear in the Beatitudes. To be poor in spirit, to mourn with those who mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, clean of heart, and peacemakers – that is the fruit that the Word of God must bear in our lives. An examination of conscience is in order here. Hopefully, our life is bearing the fruit for which God sends the Word (Is 55:11).
There is a contemporary relevance of parable of the Sower and the Seeds that carries some urgency. I do not come from a farming family. However, I do know that farmers, particularly, have a deep sense of connectedness to the earth. In all the scripture readings today, in one way or another, we see the integral connectedness between God, human beings, and the rest of creation. In today’s second reading Paul says, “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God… that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-20).
In June 2015, when Pope Francis issued his encyclical Laudato Si’, one of the main tasks he presented to the church was to see the connectedness of everything. He says, “Care for one another and creation includes understanding that “everything is connected” (no. 91), and that the economy, politics, community involvement, and technology all affect the future of the planet and humankind. This sense of reverence for the connectedness of God, creation, and us is critical during the present global coronavirus pandemic. Scientists are informing world leaders, global decision-makers, and us that the destruction of natural environments and biodiversity, the hunt for animal-protein from wildlife, and an unsustainable lifestyle are directly responsible for our present pandemic. However, like the people about whom Jesus says, “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand,” today our profit-oriented leaders are being foolish. It is tragic that care for the environment has become a politically contentious, disputed, and ideologically divisive issue. Our present and our future depend on the reverence we show to God’s creation and to the connectedness between God, creation, us.
At every Eucharist, the bread and wine are offered to the “Lord, God of all creation!” To this God we offer bread and wine, the “fruit of the earth and work of human hands.” God transforms these offerings into something far greater and gives it back to us as the real presence of Christ. In this sense, every Eucharist is a celebration of the generosity of God. It celebrated the connectedness of heaven, earth, and every creature. As we enter into communion with the living God, may it also make us generous people who treat God’s creation with reverence, and indeed bear great fruit.
Image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay