15th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 55:10–11; Romans 8:18–23; Matthew 13:1–23
The bent nail Responding to God’s word invokes receiving it, treasuring it, and putting it into practice.
AChicago novelist, John Powers, wrote a book called The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God. It’s about a boy named Tim Conroy. Tim’s in the process of growing up, and it’s proving to be a tough job. One day Tim confides to a friend: I come from a family of practicing Catholics. But do you know something? The moral practice, the worse I get.
All of us feel like Tim, at times. Maybe we aren’t getting worse, but we aren’t improving much either.
Think of it this way. By the time we’re 25, we’ve heard God’s word read and explained about a thousand times. After all these times, why haven’t we improved more than we have?
The answer to this question may lie in the parable Jesus tells in today’s gospel.
The farmer in the parable is Jesus. The seed is God’s word. The seedbeds path, rock, thorns, good soil refer to the people who hear God’s word. Some people reject it outright. Others receive it, and reject it later. Still others receive it, treasure it, and put it into practice.
It is important to note that in only one case was the word rejected outright. In the other three cases it was received with joy.
The problem is not in receiving God’s word. The problem is in treasuring it and putting it into practice.
There are, therefore, three steps involved in responding to God’s word: receiving it, treasuring it, and practicing it.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.
The first step is hearing God’s word. We might call it the “mind” step. It involves listening attentively to Scripture being read and explained.
The second step is treasuring God’s word. It might be called the “heart” step. It involves taking to heart the word we have just heard. We consider its implications for our life and how it can make our life better.
This second step doesn’t necessarily take place in church. It may start in church, but it usually continues during the week ahead, as we think about the word we heard on Sunday.
The third step is putting God’s word into practice. If we call the first step the “mind” step, and the second step the “heart” step, we might call the third step the “soul” step. It involves acting on what our mind has received and what our heart has treasured.
Paul referred to the “soul” step when he said:
The word of God is. . . sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet. Hebrews 4:12
And so there are three steps involved in hearing God’s word: the mind step (receiving it), the heart step (treasuring it), the soul step (putting it into practice).
Astory may illustrate these three steps.
There was a man named Bill. He was a prominent contractor. In time the pressure of his business caused him to turn to alcohol. Before long he separated from his family, and his business went bankrupt.
One day Bill was walking down the street. He happened to look down. There on the sidewalk was a bent, rusty nail. Bill thought to himself, That nail is a perfect picture of me.I’m rusty and bent out of shape, too. I’m good for nothing but to be thrown away, just as that nail is.
Bill stooped down, picked up the nail, and put it in his pocket. When he got home, he took a hammer and began to pound it straight. Then he took some sandpaper and removed the rust from it.
Next Bill placed the nail alongside a new one. He could hardly tell the difference between the two.
A thought flashed through Bill’s mind. His life could be straightened out and sanded clean again, just as the nail was. But it wouldn’t be easy! Could he take the hard blows and the sanding? He decided to try.
Today Bill is reunited with his family, and he is back in the construction business. He owes everything to that old, rusty, bent nail that he found on the sidewalk at just the right time in his life. To this day Bill keeps the restored nail in his wallet.
As we look back over that story we can see the three steps.
The first step, or “mind” step, was when Bill realized the bent, rusty nail was a perfect picture of himself.
The second step, or “heart” step, was when Bill hammered the nail straight, sanded it clean, and realized he could do the same thing with his own life.
The third step, or “soul” step, was when Bill made the changes in his life that resulted in his complete recovery.
If we’re like Tim Conroy in John Powers’s novel and wonder why we’re not better practicing Catholics, today’s gospel may have an important message for us.
Perhaps we aren’t better because we aren’t responding to God’s word with our whole mind, our whole heart, and our whole soul.
The message in today’s gospel is an invitation to begin imitating Bill. It is an invitation to begin responding to God’s word as Bill did: by receiving it, treasuring it, and putting it into practice.
Let’s close with a prayer: Lord Jesus, sower of the seed of God’s word, help us realize that just receiving your word isn’t enough. Help us, also, take it to heart and put it into practice.
Lord Jesus, sower of the seed of God’s word, help us respond to your word, not only with our whole mind and our whole heart, but also with our whole soul. M.L.
Series II 15th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 55:10–11; Romans 8:18–23; Matthew 13:1–23
Mirror parable The fruitfulness of God’s word depends on the openness of the heart into which it falls. In gospel times, farmers sometimes sowed their seeds on top of the soil and then plowed them under in one operation.
It was not uncommon for some of these seeds to blow onto footpaths that crisscrossed fields or to blow into rows of thornbushes or briers that sometimes enclosed fields to discourage animals from entering them. Some seeds also Fell on the thin skin of soil that hid large rocks just below the surface.
Jesus utilized this familiar situation in his parable of the sower.
Let’s see how that parable applies to life. Consider four brief, true stories.
The first story recalls the seed that fell on the footpath.
It concerns Sir Kenneth Clark, the British television celebrity who produced the TV miniseries “Civilization.”
In his autobiography, Clark describes a religious experience he had in a church at one time in his life. It was so intense that he considered making some drastic changes in the way he was living.
After the experience passed, however, Clark decided against making the changes. Looking back on his decision, he says:
I think I was right: I was too deeply imbedded in the world to change course. But that I had ‘felt the finger of God,’ I am quite sure.
Clark’s response might be compared to the seed that fell on the footpath. It stands for those who receive God’s word but later lose it because Satan steals it away from them before it can take root.
Our second story recalls the seed that fell on rocky soil.
It concerns two brothers, Clarence and Robert, who had committed their lives to Jesus in their youth. Clarence grew up and became a civil rights activist. Robert grew up and became a lawyer.
One day Clarence asked Robert for legal help in a civil rights matter. Robert refused, saying that it could hurt his political future.
Clarence was stunned. He confronted Robert about his commitment to Jesus. Robert responded, saying, “I do follow Jesus, but not onto the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”
Clarence looked at his brother and said, “Robert, you’re not a follower of Jesus; you’re only one of his fans.”
Robert’s situation might be compared to the seed that fell on rocky ground. It stands for those who receive the message with joy but abandon it in time of temptation.
Our third story recalls the seed that fell among briers.
It concerns a high school girl in Philadelphia. One night she wrote the following comments in a homework assignment: I got a strange feeling in class today when we were discussing the parable about the farmer who planted seed.
You see, at the end of last year, I had a great talk with my counselor. She helped me see a lot of things clearly, and I made several resolutions.
Then yesterday it hit me. I hadn’t kept a single one of those resolutions. I had gotten so involved in school again that I forgot all about them.
The girl’s comments might be compared to the seed that fell among briers. She received her counselor’s words with joy but forgot about them once the rat race of life got started again.
Finally, our last story recalls the seed that fell on good soil.
It concerns the author John R. Stott. In his book Basic Christianity he describes an incident that happened in his youth.
One night he knelt down and committed his life to Jesus. The next day he wrote in his journal:
Yesterday really was an eventful day! . . . Behold, Jesus stands at the door and knocks. I have heard him and now he has come into my house. He has cleansed it and now rules in it.
Later on, Stott wrote these words:
I really have felt an immense and new joy. . . . It is the joy of being at peace with the world and of being in touch with God. . . . I never really knew him before.
John’s commitment might be compared to the seed that fell on good soil. It stands for those who hear God’s message and take it to heart.
The parable of the sower belongs to that group of parables in the Gospel that are sometimes called mirror parables. These parables act as a mirror into which we can look and see ourselves.
In other words, the parable of the sower invites us to ask ourselves what seed we are like.
Or, to put it in another way, which person in the stories we just heard are we most like?
Are we like the seed that fell on the footpath? That is, are we like Sir Kenneth Clark, who was inspired to change his life but then decided against it because it would upset everything?
Or are we like the seed that fell on rocky soil? That is, are we like Robert, who committed his life to Jesus in his youth but reneged on that commitment when temptation came?
Or are we like the seed that fell among briers? That is, are we like the high school girl who made all those resolutions and then promptly forgot about them?
Or are we like the seed that fell on good soil? That is, are we like John Stott, who committed his life to Jesus and then rearranged his life to follow through on that commitment?
This is the question Jesus asked the people of his time. It’s also the question he asks each one of us in our time. And once we answer that question, Jesus expects us to do something about it.
Let’s close our reflection with the prayer we used to begin this Eucharist: Father, let the light of your truth guide us to your kingdom through a world filled with lights contrary to our own. Christian is the name and the gospel we glory in. May your love make us what you have called us to be. Series III 15th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 55:10–11; Romans 8:18–23; Matthew 13:1–23
God’s Word The fruitfulness of God’s Word in our life depends on the openness of our mind, heart, and soul.
Some seeds fell . . . in good soil, and the plants bore grain. Matthew 13:8
In Gospel times farmers took a handful of seed from a sack and scattered it across a field by hand.
Some of the seed fell on well-trampled paths where people used to take a shortcut across fields. Some fell into the rows of thornbushes that enclosed fields to keep animals out.
And some seed fell on the thin skin of soil that often covered large flat rocks just below the surface of the soil.
The farmer sowing the seed stands for Jesus himself. The seed stands for the Word of God. The path, the thorns, the rocky soil, and the good soil stand for the four kinds of people who listen to God’s Word.
Some people reject the word outright. Others receive it, and reject it later. Still others receive it, treasure it, and put it into practice.
It’s important to note that in only one case was the word rejected outright. In the other three cases, it was received with joy.
And so the big problem is not receiving God’s Word. The problem is treasuring it and putting it into practice.
There are, therefore, three steps involved in responding to God’s Word: receiving it, treasuring it, and putting it into practice. Let’s take a closer look at each step.
The first step is receiving God’s Word. We might call it the “mind” step. It involves listening attentively with our mind to God’s Word.
The second step is treasuring the Word. We might call it the “heart” step. It involves welcoming the Word, pressing it to our heart, and treasuring it.
The third step is putting the Word into practice. We might call it the “soul” step. It involves “stepping out in faith” and doing something about the Word.
And so three steps are involved: the mind step, receiving the word; the heart step, treasuring it; and the soul step, putting it into practice. A story will help illustrate each step. Mark Bosco is an ordained priest. About a year before his ordination, he was touched by something Mother Teresa said, as she opened a new hospice for AIDS patients. She said:
“The AIDS patient is the newest face of the suffering Christ.” Those words fell into his heart, like the seed that fell on good soil. That is, he opened his heart to the words and received them.
Next he reflected upon the connection Mother Teresa made between the suffering of the AIDS patients and the suffering of Christ. That is, he treasured the words.
Finally, he decided to step out in faith and do something about it. That is, he put the words into practice.
He joined about 1,000 cyclists who were preparing for a 600-mile trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, to raise money for AIDS research. Mark’s contribution was $3,500 in pledges.
At the end of the seven-day trip, Mark wrote in his journal:
My faith in God and his people has been renewed. . . . The ride gave me the gift of noticing my Lord alive in so many places, in so many faces.
Let me describe two places where Mark saw his Lord alive in faces. He wrote in his journal:
There were four riders in their 70s, the oldest being 78. I asked one why he decided to do the ride. His eyes began to water. He said:
“My grandson died of AIDS last year . . . and I never really had a chance to show him how much I loved him. I’m doing this ride for him and I’m hoping he’s with me, looking down on me.”
The second place where Mark saw his Lord alive in faces was on the third day of the ride. He describes it this way:
At one of the pit stops, migrant workers were picking vegetables across from where our bikes lay strewn along the road.
One rider, fluent in Spanish, greeted two of the women. They asked him what was going on with all the bikes; he explained . . . then he went to get some food and drink.
When he came back, the women approached him and said, “We told our friends what you said.We took up a collection and would like you to have this.”
The rider held out his hand and received $2.56 in change. When he tried to give it back, the women responded,” Take it. We know what it is like to suffer.” Company magazine: the world of Jesuits and their friends
Those two examples, cited by Mark, bring us to back to our own situation.
As we listen to these two examples, and reflect on them, perhaps we experience the same call to do something to help just as the grandfather and the migrant workers did. Whatever we eventually decide to do, we need to keep two things in mind. First, God’s Word can surprise us and speak to us at any moment of the day or night.
And it can come from many sources, just as Mark heard it in something Mother Teresa said and just as the migrant workers heard it in something the cyclist said.
Second, whatever we decide to do, our decision will have far-reaching effects in the lives of the people we help.
In other words, just as the AIDS victims will be helped by the decisions of cyclists, so other people will be helped by our decision.
Perhaps the greatest effect that our decision will have on people is the effect that it will have on ourselves.
Let me illustrate by quoting again the words Mark wrote in his journal at the end of his trip. He said of the trip:
My faith in God and his people has been renewed. . . . The ride gave me the gift of noticing my Lord alive in so many places, in so many faces.
So as we prepare to return to the altar to break bread together, let’s ask Jesus to open our minds, hearts, and souls to his Word.
It will only make a difference not in the lives of other people, but also and especially in our own life.