July 13, 2014


Whoever has ears ought to hear. – Mt. 13: 9

   A deep sense of grief & sorrow hangs over this parable. It highlights how often the divine seed is destroyed – destroyed in stony hearts, by the heat of the sun, by choking thorns & predatory birds. All this is seen & proclaimed while outwardly the people are coming in droves. One might expect Jesus to think of Himself as a success. Instead, He is sad because He sees the fate of God’s word..

   Taking a closer look, a path is not meant to receive seed but to enable people to get somewhere with a minimum of effort. One does not blame a path for not being fertile. But just as there are smooth, presentable paths, so too are some human hearts. They are the people we must know if we want to get somewhere. They hold key positions or are influential. However, that which is good in one sense can be a handicap in another sense. A person who is only a path through which daily traffic passes, who is no more than a busy street where people go rushing by & where there is never a moment of rest will hardly provide soil in which the eternal seed can flourish.

   It is dangerously easy for the rich & famous [whose names everybody knows] to think they are something great when the rushing traffic keeps passing over them. This is why they are more in danger than the nameless furrow where fruit is quietly growing.

   Smaller folks are in the parable too.  The image of birds tells us that the word of God can fail to take root because there are other forces at work than simply our lack of religious understanding. There are many thoughts & desires that prevent us from pausing to hear God’s call: our ambitions, passions, & our desire for recognition & prestige.

   The traditional weapons against such domineering influences include prayer & meditation. Yet if we meditate on anything these days it would seem to be in the realm of the sexual or of anxious worry about what will happen to us next. The word of God is too demanding, requiring our undivided attention, & so we lapse into reveries more to our liking. In which case, we would hardly be surprised that our prayers often do not help, & we say that the seed is sterile, that God stopped speaking long ago. We must be careful of the birds – the thought forces that tug at our hearts – for once they feel at home in our heads & hearts, the seed is done for.

   Then there is the rocky ground where roots cannot sink deep. This is emotional Christianity, where we are more interested in being inspired than in being fired (as metal is fired in a furnace). Enthusiasm without a disciplined life of prayer & the sacraments is little more than spiritual foam & froth that are doomed to fail when the first whirlwind comes along. For the word of God to really take root, one must die & be born again. This means much pain until the new life is able to struggle free. It means not one but many cords that have to be cut.

   A religion that costs very little never turns us inside out. The scribe who knows his bible, who can discuss religion gravely, who goes to church every Sunday, but for whom none of  this results in repentance & death of the self is simply accumulating corruption; & his religious sentiment is nothing but self-deception. A terrible curse hangs over the know-it-all who does nothing. Those who have been merely “brushed” by Christianity will lose even that which they think they have!

   Then there are the thorns that prevent the seed from producing fruit. The chain of doubt & faithlessness to which we are shackled has many links – not intellectual reasons, but sins, dependencies, & secret bondages that prevent us from finding peace & block full surrender to the divine will. Each of us has a hidden axis around which our life revolves, for which we are prepared (or almost) to sell ourselves & our salvation. Where is this axis in our life, & what is this awful price we are willing to pay?

   All this is like a photographic negative to what the good soil is like. To heed what has been heard is to budget one’s life upon it, to cast aside all doubts as to whether one is really crazy or not. God must be obeyed if he is to be understood & we will never experience peace if we only go on hearing & reflecting but doing nothing.

   Finally, it is not a question of my being a path, or rocky ground, or choked with thorns, or good soil. Life is never so simple. Each of us has all four kinds of soil within. Different times & circumstances in our lives can reveal any one of them. The important thing is that we hold onto the Word in stillness & get rid of the callousness & indifference in our lives. It means not squeezing God into a few cracks & crevices in our lives, but giving Him the space of daily quiet, & by not avoiding repentance.

   God’s grace is not cheap. We have to pay for it with all we are & all we have; but the alternatives are far more costly. We can loaf our way into hell, but the exciting thing about being about being Christian is that it always goes the limit. In the quiet fields far more is happening than at the great crossroads where the red & green traffic lights flash their busy signals.  AMEN!