A couple months ago, as winter was turning into spring, we started to see more people outside enjoying the change in weather. In many neighborhood backyards home gardeners began preparing to plant seeds for their gardens hoping that in time a good harvest would come. Newspapers and magazines ran timely articles hoping to assist the gardeners with their preparations.
One article I came across dealt with preparing the soil. It was an interesting read. The article described various aspects about what many would look at and simply call “dirt.” The author identified different combinations of top soil, compost and various nutrients that could be supplied organically to help the roots grow once established. The article also described the manner of tilling the soil so that the roots could grow deep and wide so that they could hold the plant and allow it to grow tall and strong. All this so that the gardener might yield a good crop come harvest time.
Jesus’ familiar parable of the sower sowing seed is the passage for Sunday’s Gospel reading. We can certainly visualize the images Jesus uses of seed being scattered: some falling on the path, others falling on rocky soil, some among the thorns and finally some seed falling on good soil. As we imagine the sowing we see three elements that come to the fore: the sower, the seed and the soil.
The sower is Christ. Jesus comes into the field of the world. He lives in the world as he proclaims the Kingdom of God. He comes into contact with many people who live in the world with him. The encounter provides a great opportunity for anyone who meets him along the way for he has a great gift to offer — the gift of life.
The seed is the word of God. In one sense it is Jesus himself who is the Word. In the parable Jesus uses the expression “word of the kingdom.” The expression denotes God’s understanding of life and the manner in which it should be lived. Living according to God’s way brings life because God is the author of life.
The soil represents our souls. Jesus comes to us and offers us his word that gives life. The parable uses the image of soil to describe the different dispositions from which the person accepts or hears the word. Jesus himself describes the different dispositions or situations in life whereby the word is received.
The seed sown on the path represents one who hears the word but does not understand it. The image provides a reminder to us not to be superficial with regard to our faith life. Hearing the Word of God is not enough; we have to ponder on the Word allowing it to penetrate the depths of our souls.
Similar is the image of the seed sown on rocky ground. In this case, the Word takes root but the roots do not go fully into the soil because of the rocks. Jesus describes this situation as someone who loses their faith to “tribulation or persecution.” He urges us to have soil prepared for the seed of his word. It is difficult in life to know when the trials or tribulations might come — and they come in many different forms — but they usually come. In a way, Jesus is giving us the answer on how to deal with them: have a deep rooted faith. This does not mean that the trials and tribulations will disappear but if our faith is strongly rooted they will not be able to hold us back.
The seed sown among thorns represents someone in whom the Word has taken root and begins to bear fruit. However since it is sown among the thorns or weeds, it gets choked. In other words, the nutrients needed for producing fruit are blocked so the plant will not produce. Jesus says the thorns are “worldly anxiety” and the “lure of riches.” Jesus teaches us that the way of the world is not one that leads to life, but eventually to death. Rather than being preoccupied with worldly success, power, wealth, security and pleasure we should keep our focus on the faith so that the Word that brings life might penetrate to the core of our being.
Finally Jesus uses the image of the rich soil. This is the soil that has been tilled and prepared. The rich soil has all that is necessary to receive the Word and to allow it to grow within and bear much, much fruit — as Jesus says: “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” The bountiful harvest is a great image of the life-giving power of the Word.
Jesus’ words are “spirit and life” (cf. John 6:63). Isaiah, in today’s first reading, beautifully illustrates the bounty flowing from the Word of God: “Just as from the heavens the rain and 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 goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
Preparing the soils of our souls is important so that our encounter with Jesus and his word may be transforming and life giving. So many people I encounter speak of the busy-ness of life. Running from one thing to another; from one obligation to another. Responsibilities from work, family, home and neighborhood, while all good, can be tiring and at times distracting. Many times when people find themselves in this type of situation their longing for God’s presence is heightened.
St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans speaks of a “groaning within ourselves.” On the one hand he is speaking about the eternal union with God in heaven. On the other hand he is identifying the ever present desire in our souls to experience that union of which Jesus is the Way.
The parable of the sower reminds us that while we live in this world, the way to address that longing is the Word of God, Jesus. Preparing the soul for the seed first entails making the time for the Lord. Certainly we do this on a weekly basis on Sunday at Mass.
But we can also make time each day for the Lord. Whether it be through morning or night prayers, stopping in church for some quiet time with the Lord or even using transit time for spiritual things (reading on the train, listening to spiritual or catechetical works in the car, etc.) there are plenty of opportunities to “till the soil,” so that when the Word is sown it can bear much fruit — “a hundred, or sixty or thirty fold.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.