While the Scriptures are composed over an extended expanse of time, I am often quite awestruck over how the theme of salvation is interweaved through so many settings and types of literature. They speak of creation, growth, and re-creation. In Isaiah 55:10-11, the prophet Isaiah uses the image of rain making the earth fertile to illustrate how his words are also to bear fruit in the faithfulness of the chosen people. Psalm 65:10,11,12-13.14 paints the picture of a teeming agricultural paradise where God’s blessing causes the seed which falls on good ground to produce a rich harvest. Romans 8:18-23 offers the testimony of Paul who views all of creation groaning and in agony as it experiences its growth pains from the old to the new order. And Matthew 13:1-23, has Jesus using the tensive language of parable to speak about the seed of faith.
Throughout most ages there has been a preoccupation with the seed. It has only been since the days of the Industrial Revolution and the modern distribution of labor, that many of us have lost sight of some of the natural necessities like seed and its symbolic significance. We buy bread at the store; we don’t have to grow wheat. We purchase most if not all of our vegetables from others; I wonder how much thought have we ever given to its planting and harvesting? It can become easy for us to forget the importance of the seed. Without it, plants would cease to be. Without it, the life-cycle would be so disrupted that even animal life on this planet would eventual exhaust itself. And yet, in the depths of who we are, we all began as no more than a seed, a tiny little treasure-house, bursting with life.
In the days long gone, there was a reverence for the seed which approached worship and awe. To the superstitious, it was a magical thing; to the religious, it was among the most miraculous of God’s gifts. The people of Jesus’ time lived close to the earth; they had to in order to survive. The seed and water and good soil meant the difference between life and death. The prophets, including Jesus, were well aware of this. The Gospel celebrates this understanding. The Scriptures return to this theme again and again, like in the story of the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed, becoming a great bush or tree. We need to recover something of their sense for the natural if we are really going to appreciate such teachings. Just imagine, locked away in the most meager seed, hidden behind its shell, is a life organized in such a way that a fully mature plant can come from it. The colossal redwood forests, some of which go back before the incarnation of Christ into our world; they all began as seeds. The grass in our lawns, all began as seeds. Much of the food we eat, began as seeds. Could you create a tree or even a blade of grass from scratch? No. None of us could. And yet, this insignificant thing, maybe the size of a piece of dust, can be filled with information and life to do all these things; indeed, in doing so, it makes possible a whole new generation of seeds. I recall in school, some years past, that we got into a fairly academic and maybe nonsensical argument related to this very point. The question was, did the plant live for the seed, or the seed for the plant? We never really answered it. Only eggheads could get into a debate like that. A good farmer would simply take that seed, plant it, and take pride in being a steward in God’s creation. He would harvest it for the many who would otherwise be hungry.
In Matthew 13:1-23, Jesus tells us a story about the mysterious seed, something to which all his listeners could relate, so that they might catch a glimmer of what the gift of faith means. It is an awkward tale he tells. A farmer went sowing. He was definitely clumsy. He dropped some seed on the footpath and birds ate it up. He dropped some of it on rocky ground and it immediately sprouted with anemic roots and shriveled away. Again, he was a poor farmer. However, there is an interesting detail here we might miss. Jesus says the seed grew at once. A farming friend of mind told me a few years ago that Jesus would have gotten a few chuckles in his parts, because saying that seed immediately sprouts is a tall tale. And it is true, Jesus is stretching his image here to fit what he wants to say about faith. The farmer goes on to drop seed among thorns where it was choked to death. Either this was one accident-prone farmer or he was very dumb. But finally, maybe despite himself, some seed is dropped upon good ground. But, what luck this stupid farmer had! What a tall-tale my farmer friend from Iowa would yell — this grain yielded a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold! You can almost hear Jesus’ audience respond with a shuddered hush.
Jesus later goes on to explain his parable to his disciples. The seed eaten by birds on the path represents the man who hears the Good News, but he fails to really understand what Christ and his kingdom is about. He is easily misled, and the evil one may steal what little he has. Sometimes we may find these kind of people in our own midst, who say they believe, but who all too readily follow the fads of the day, even to the point of forsaking the message of Jesus and his Church. The seed that shriveled on rock was like a man filled with the satisfaction which comes with conversion, but when the excitement has passed, he quickly falls away. His roots only reached to the pleasures and gratification which come with faith; his roots did not pierce to a love of God, simply for being God. This is important, because we can confuse God for the gifts he gives us. When those gifts and satisfactions, even from prayer, are not what we want them to be, we might fall away. Remaining steadfast, we should find them as occasions for further growth in holiness. Sometimes you must pass through “the dark night of the soul” so that you can reach the bright new day offered by the kingdom. I guess what I mean to say is that the seed lost on rocky ground represented the person more in love with himself than God. It is no wonder that added to this, any kind of persecution or bigotry, whether it is explicit or hidden may cause these rootless seeds to fall by the wayside all the sooner. The seed among thorns is choked, just as fears and greed may choke the life of God in us. Who is our God? Is it Wealth? Is it Power? Is it Prestige? And most terribly, is it Fear? That must be the most terrible of all the contenders against God! Fear — anxiety — it can choke God’s grace in us; we need to make Christ the Master of our lives — not Fear — never Fear. As hard as it might be, we need to trust him no matter what. If not, then we will never totally become the disciples we were called to be.
Like the seed in good soil, we need to allow the seed of faith — of God’s grace — to take root and grow in us. In the waters of our baptism it was planted with our dying in Christ; in those same waters it is to rise and bloom. Our faith cannot be stagnant, if so, it drowns. A hundred-fold it has to reach out and embrace others. In the way we live our lives and in what we say, we witness and throw off further seed to be planted and to grow.
I would like to ask two questions. First, ask yourself, what have you done to help allow God to grant you an ever greater share of faith and holiness? Make a list. Second, ask yourself, how many people during your lifetime have you helped to receive the gift of faith and to become a Catholic Christian? How many? Make a list. And if you should be a little disappointed, then start anew in allowing God’s love and life to touch you and through you, others. Please do this. The harvest is ready; workers are needed to bring it in.
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