The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Homily: 15 Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Readings: Is 55:10-11  Ps 65 Rom 8:18-23 Mt 13:1-23

Immersed in the Gospel, and supported by our faith, we hear the parables of Jesus and we understand...or, at least, we try to understand.

But that's not always the case, is it? Our receptivity, how open we are to receive God's Word, can vary like the seasons.

Sometimes it pierces the soul to the very marrow, and we experience deep conversion of heart.

But then, perhaps too often, it barely seems to scratch the surface, because we're just not ready for least not yet.

And sometimes, we actively resist it. We reject God's Word because it says things we simply don't want to hear. Yes, it's then that we're much more open to the word of the world...which is strange since the world just offers us one empty promise after another: 
A diamond is forever.
It's the real thing. 
Have it your way.
Just do it.
You're in good hands.
Yes, following the world's advice, we're promised that everything will go well...until we come face to face with eternity. Unlike the word of the world, the Word of God both commands and demands.

Not long ago I came across the website of a consulting group that focuses on helping Christian churches fill the pews. The site includes a teasing little blurb with all kinds of interesting suggestions:
Does your church have sufficient parking?
What's the quality of the music?
Is it a friendly, hospitable church?
...and on and on...although make no mistake, these are all good things.

But after reading the consultants' list of suggestions, I noticed something was missing.

There was little or nothing about proclaiming and living God's Word. The only thing that came close was an admonition to "avoid polarization in your preaching." I'm not sure what that means. Maybe it's just another way of saying, "Don't worry, be happy."

But there was nothing about the grace-giving sacramental life...

Nothing about serving God's people beyond the boundaries of the property...

Nothing about being the "salt of the earth" or "the light of the world."

Imagine how these consultants would have responded to Jesus and the parable of the sower.
Jesus, you've just got to be more focused. See this huge crowd? That Word of yours will turn off most of them.
We've heard you.
"Eat my Body...drink my Blood" [Jn 6:53]
"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." [Mt 5:44]
"When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."  [Mt 6:3]
Those words will just drive most of them away. And that's no way to fill the parking lot or the collection basket.
You'll be lucky to end up with a handful of followers.
You just don't understand the dynamics of church growth.
Of course, Jesus didn't have that kind of expert help, the kind available to us today. And so what did He do? 

He gathered the huge crowd, got into the boat, and sat down like teacher and judge, and told His disciples how to spread the Word...  
He told them a parable about a farmer who isn't very careful at all about the sowing of seed: he just throws it all over the place. Although some actually falls on fertile soil, most of it seems to be wasted.

But that's exactly what Jesus has done since He began His public ministry. Unsparing in His generosity, He teaches, He forgives, He heals, He reaches out to all who come to Him, even to those who don't. He has a special love for public sinners, for the poor, for society's misfits and rejects - not the sort who give large contributions.

Jesus, you see, is the Word, the Incarnate Word of God, and so He teaches, and heals, and forgives through His Word and His Work.

He calls for more than simple obedience to the law. He calls for conversion, a change of heart and mind in his hearers. But too many resist His appeal because their hearts are as hard as the rocky ground on which some of that seed fell...or as tangled and suffocating as the briars that choked God's Word before it could grow.

Why? Jesus says they lack understanding. What is this understanding? Brothers and sisters, it's an act of faith, a response to Jesus' call. For their hearts to be opened, they must respond. Without it, they'll just be like so many Christians today who seem to welcome the Gospel but then crumble once they're tested, once they're actually called to live it. Only this understanding, this act of faith, frees us from the allure of the word of the world.

Jesus isn't surprised by their lack of faith. They're the same hardened hearts with which Isaiah had to contend when He spread the seed of God's word.

And Jesus promises us that God is not defeated because, like the farmer, He's a bit of a gambler.

When the farmer bets everything he has...and the outcome isn't guaranteed...well, he’s gambling big time. The higher the stakes, the harder he works. Not just to control the weeds, but to control the every single variable he can. He does so to control the risks.

Consider the extreme and improbable risks that God takes by planting his Word in our hostile world. What are the chances the Word of God will take root and yield a good harvest?
Just try talking love or compassion to a terrorist...or forgiveness to the family of a murder victim.

What about the notion of truth in the midst of a heated political campaign?

How about the command, "Sell what you have and give  to the poor"? [Mt 19:21]  Have you ever seen it in a brochure pushing real estate or financial planning?

How often do the words "praise" and "gratitude" play on the minds of those busily adjusting the parameters of their spreadsheets?

And does the scientist ever realize she's bowing in reverence to the Creator of the universe whenever she leans over the microscope to study the wonders of cellular regeneration?

What are the chances?

You and I might think the chances of the Word of God germinating in a fallen world are mighty slim. But, as it turns out, God is a gambler of the most reckless sort. As the poetry of Isaiah reveals, the Word of God swiftly runs upon the earth and doesn't return to the heavens void!

Day after day, in the face of incredible odds, Jesus hurls out the seed of the Word like a gambler throwing dice. It appears reckless...but faith takes root. Isaiah was confident. Jesus claimed it was a sure thing. God's Word yields its harvest.

In arid hearts that thirst for God, the understanding, the seeds of faith...will take root, "and yield a hundred or sixty or thirty fold" [Mt 13:8]

How's that for a reckless, over-the-top response?

No, God doesn't hesitate. But what about us? What about you and me? What's our response to His Word?

You see, God expects us, His disciples, to join Him in this work of sowing. But too often we're so wrapped up in ourselves, in our needs and wants, we don't realize the impact we can have. Too often we fall into the trap of thinking we must do big things to get God's attention, when exactly the opposite is true.

Indeed, each time you open your Bible, or take time to pray together, or carry God's love to another, or gather together at Mass, or feed the hungry, or visit the sick or imprisoned, more seeds are scattered, more risks are taken!

You see, it's these seemingly little things that plant the seed of God's Word in the world.

Yesterday morning I read a journal article by a psychiatrist who's been studying the growing plague of suicide in our nation, particularly among the young. He concluded the article with these words:

"A few years ago, a man in his thirties took his own life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge (as more than 1,500 other people have done since the bridge was built). After his death, his psychiatrist went with the medical examiner to the man's apartment where they found his diary. The last entry, written just hours before he died, said, "I'm going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump." [First Things]

I wonder how many Christians, people like you and me, he encountered on that short walk.

Brothers and sisters, sometimes one tiny spot of fertile soil awaits the arrival of a single life-giving seed.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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