15th Sunday of the Year
16 July 2017
It is appropriate that in the warm days of mid-summer we should have readings at mass that reflect on life through the lens of planting and harvesting. After all, this is the time when the corn is more than knee-high and gardeners are eagerly awaiting ripe tomatoes, loads of zucchini, and other fruits of the earth. We begin our scriptural harvest with the prophet Isaiah, who announces the Lord's promise that his word is like rain falling upon the earth during the growing season, "making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats." He concludes, "thus shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void" (Isa 55:10-11).
The Psalmist next carries on this theme, praying: "You have visited the land and watered it; greatly have you enriched it" (Ps 65:10), and we answer as a congregation by responding repeatedly: "The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest". Saint Paul continues the agricultural reflection as he uses images of natural growth and development to illustrate how our human lives are like the rhythm of planting, waiting, withering, and finally enjoying the harvest whose arrival did not always seem so sure. He writes: "the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God" (Rom 8:18-19).
Finally we come to our Lord's parable of the sower and the seed in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew's Gospel. After presenting the familiar image of seed that falls without bearing a harvest, Jesus tells his hearers exactly what it is that makes the "good seed" yield such a rich harvest: "the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold" (Matt 13:23).
Two things are brought to our notice here: first, we are the seed; that is, each one of us contains the potential for a bountiful harvest. Whether we bear fruit or not depends on the second point: our listening carefully to the word and putting it into action. The word is the message of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is not like our world; it is frighteningly beyond all that we experience, yet it is also within grasp. The Kingdom requires growing pains at times, and helps us to flourish at other times, all the while drawing us closer to the vision of justice and love which is its essence.
What is said of planting and harvesting that people in our Lord's era would have immediately recognized is also true of life in general: it is a fragile process; it sometimes looks like it will flourish only to be nipped in the bud, and on the other hand it can turn up a greater yield than ever imagined. This sounds good, but what about our Lord's words in response to the question "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He replies, "Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich" (Matt 13:10-11).
Knowing that the Kingdom of Heaven is both here and still coming, impossible, yet utterly attainable, let it be our prayer that the mystery of the Kingdom and our desire for it might grow like the crops of the fields, stretching and discomforting us at times but eventually yielding within us a bounty of "a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold" (Matt 13:23). (620 words)