Sunday, July 13, 2014

That Old Familiar Sower

A sower went out to sow. How many times have we heard this parable [Matthew 13:1-23]? Years ago,when I was in seminary, one of my professors was fond of citing that familiar opening line as an example of how we have become so accustomed to hearing certain parables that, when we hear a familiar line like that, we already know what follows and how it is going to end, and so our tendency is to start to tune out – which, of course, is one of the very things the parable is warning us not to do!

That is certainly a real problem - one which inevitably accompanies the repeated proclamation of familiar words and stories. The remedy for that is learning to pay attention in a new way, learning to re-hear old words and stories as if they were being told for the first time, Admittedly that is something of a challenge and takes effort, but it is hardly impossible. In fact, it might be suggested that it is one of the specific surprises grace can accomplish in our otherwise routine and predictable human condition. It is what transforms our ears into ears that can hear!

But hearing this story remains a challenge on numerous levels. Having lived virtually all my life in cities, parables about farmers sowing seed sound somewhat exotic to me – and, maybe more than exotic actually somewhat strange. What exactly is the farmer doing? Why does he sow his seed in such a seemingly random sort of way? Of course, Jesus’ actual hearers – the original audience for this parable - would have understood that Israel’s arid climate and rocky soil are not very farmer-friendly. Finding in advance the pockets of good fertile soil, with the limited technology available to traditional agriculture, would have been be very difficult - and inefficient. Throwing the seed all over the place may mean a lot will be wasted, but it probably guarantees that some will fall on good soil and take root and produce fruit.

So what may seem to us like inefficiency  turns out to be really quite efficient indeed on the farmer's part.!

Jesus uses this familiar fact to say something about how God produces fruit in the world, reaching out to us with extravagant generosity, recognizing that maybe not everyone will respond – nor, having responded, really persevere. Even so, God persists in revealing himself as widely as possible, in many and various ways. He does that because that is who God is and how God acts – and how he expects his Church to behave in imitation of him. And that is why God’s extravagant generosity invites such an extravagantly faithful response on our part – producing fruit as much as a hundred-fold.

As Pope Francis has exhorted us: The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. … Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. … Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. … The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear [Evangelii Gaudium, 24].

Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, July 13, 2014.

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