Gardens are popular this time of the year. The plants that were started in early spring are starting to yield their fruit. Around these parts people are particular to Jersey tomatoes – the home-grown varieties should be ready to pick in a couple weeks. If you like tomatoes, you can appreciate it when the crop is a good one. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The better the crop the more enjoyment one gets in eating the fruit but also in sharing it with family, friends and those in need.
The same can be said of other fruits from the garden. In fact the concept can go into many aspects of life where something produced is good and then we want to enjoy it and share it with others.
The Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy contains the “Parable of the Sower.” Most of us are familiar with the story. The sower sows seed that lands on four different types of ground. Three types of ground proved inadequate for the seed to sprout, grow and produce fruit. The fourth, however, was excellent and it enabled a crop of 30, 60 or 100 fold.
Hearing the parable we naturally want the seed to fall on good soil because we want that yield of 30, 60 or 100 fold. That’s pretty obvious from the parable itself. It is somewhat like saying: “You’d have to be crazy not to want that.” Jesus then goes on to explain the parable saying that the seed is like the “word of God.”
The word of God is wonderful and powerful; it gives life and provides for life. Think back to the first story of creation in the Book of Genesis. God spoke and wonderful things happened. He said, “Let there be light” and there was light.
That same word of God, reflected in the Scriptures and in Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh, is spoken to us. When we truly listen, allowing that “word” to penetrate our hearts, then great things can happen to us. Fruits in all different forms of virtue, kind acts, good behavior, works of charity and love, care for the poor and needy, compassion and mercy will be produced.
The key is that the seed must be planted in “good soil.” The old adage is true – if you want good plants, you better have good soil.
We saw what happened when the seed was sown on ground that was either bad or poor. So how do we prepare the soil of our souls? First we have to break up the soil. Remember the soil represents the whole of our lives. So much so that there is no aspect of our lives that is excluded from the word. God wants to touch every aspect and to bring forth fruit from all parts of our lives (family, home, work, school, intellectual life, emotional life, relationships, behavior, attitudes, etc.).
“Breaking up the soil” means preparing ourselves to accept the “word” into all these aspects. Some we may not want to break up. We might put up walls or obstacles; we might not want to listen. Yet God wants to enter these areas as well. We need to be open to listen. Breaking up the soil, in addition to making it easier for the roots to go in, allows air to get into the soil, which makes it more suitable for growing.
Second, we have to take out any rocks or clumps of weeds that might have grown on that patch of ground. These things will get in the way of growth, and will inhibit growth of the plant. The same is true when we are trying to live good lives. If there are behaviors or dispositions that we have that are bad, then we need to remove them. The more we do this, the better the soul will be to receive the “word” and to be further enlivened by it.
Third, the ground has to accept the seed. Of course soil does not do this on its own. The gardener will place the seed then cover it with some of the loose soil. The seed is now in the soil.
We have to allow God to be the gardener of our souls. We allow him to plant the word when we listen. Listening is different from hearing. When we are attentive to his voice in the liturgy, in the Scriptures, in our devotions or meditations, then we are listening. Listening entails being obedient to his word, to following his word, trusting in faith that he will lead us where we need to go.
The Word of God is powerful and brings life. It is the word that goes forth from the mouth of God and, in his words from Isaiah, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
Jesus gives us the “Parable of the Sower” to invite us to open our hearts to not only hear his word but to truly listen to his word and to be transformed by it.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.