Our readings today bring us to the world of nature and farming. The prophet Isaiah opens with the image of snow and rain, sent from heaven to earth to water it. They do not return until they have made the earth fertile and fruitful so that it can provide us with nourishment. The word of God too is sent with an even greater purpose – to accomplish his will – and it does not fail to achieve this end.
The emphasis in the first reading is on the unfailing power of the divine word. The Gospel, however, brings up another factor: the condition of the one who receives the word. Like the sower in the parable, God does not discriminate in the planting of his powerful word. He offers it to everyone. The size of the harvest depends not only on the sower and his seeds but also on the kind of soil that receives the seeds. This tells us that the effect of the seed of God’s word depends on us, on what kind of soil our heart is. To help us reflect on how we receive God’s word in our hearts, Jesus describes four kinds of soil.
The Path. This is the part of field which is commonly used as the right of way. The soil may be good, but it is hard. The seeds that fall here never germinate. Even if they survive being trampled by passers-by, they cannot escape the eyes of hungry birds always looking for something to feast on. The Path represents people with closed hearts and minds. They choose not to hear and not to believe. Their prejudice against the teachings of Jesus has made a hardened barrier between them and God. One thing that can make our hearts like this path is pride. When we are proud, we do not look to God for anything because we act as if we do not need anything from him. Fear can also make us like the path. Fear prevents us from heeding the word of God because if we have grown attached to some immoral behavior or attitude, we are afraid that God’s word might challenge us to change.
The Rocky Ground. In this shallow soil, the seed begins to grow, but eventually it dies. The Rocky Ground represents people with shallow minds. They are always looking for something new; they always want to be “in” with the latest fad or fashion. They may start a new hobby simply because it is the trend, without thinking much about why they are doing it. Eventually, they find that it takes more effort than they are willing to give; they grow weary and drop the project without accomplishing anything. We ourselves become Rocky Ground when we easily and enthusiastically accept the message of Jesus, but without thought or depth or commitment. We like to hear a dynamic preacher or visit a miraculous shrine, but we do not give the seed of faith any room to grow. When difficulties arise and the fire of our first emotion starts to wane, we forget what we have heard and go back to our former way of life.
The Thorny Ground. Lots of things can grow in fertile soil, good seeds as well as thorns. But if there is a mixture, the thorns choke off the fruitfulness of the good seeds. Most people who consider themselves committed disciples of Jesus can be likened to this Thorny Ground. We have faith and we really listen to the word of God, but we fail to put God first in our life. We let other things get planted in our hearts, so we are easily overwhelmed with distractions and worries. We desire to follow him totally, but we get choked by our temporal affairs – too busy to pray, too busy to listen, too busy to ponder and to live the word of God in our life. Seeds cannot grow well in this kind of soil.
The Rich Soil. This soil is ready for planting; it is soft and fertile. Here the seed can grow and flourish and produce an abundant harvest. This can be compared to those whose hearts are totally open to the word of God. Their openness, interest, humility and willingness to change make them receive the seed of faith with enthusiasm and joy. These people do not stay at the level of emotion. With open minds, they strive to understand the message of God, giving the soil of their hearts enough depth for the faith to grow. They also do their part to nourish their faith by putting it into practice – with regular prayer, frequent acts of self-denial, and constant readiness to serve others. This is clearly the kind of soil God wants us to provide for his word, so that, by his grace, we can produce abundant fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
This Gospel is the word that God is planting in our hearts today. It has the power to do his will, achieving the end for which he is sending it. God has not created us simply to wander about on this earth; he gives us a mission, and he wants us to be fruitful. St. Paul, reflecting on the plan of God, tells us that the trials we go through in the process of becoming good and fruitful soil – what he calls “the sufferings of this present time” – “are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us.” God sees beyond the futility, the slavery to corruption, the groaning of the present, and looks forward to the revelation of a glory that is now still hidden like a seed in the ground. In time the “glorious freedom of the children of God” will be made manifest.
Meanwhile, our task is to persevere. We have the “firstfruits of the Spirit” already planted in us, but we “groan within ourselves,” with spiritual labor pains, as we wait and work for the full flowering of the Lord’s work of redemption. Let us keep welcoming and nourishing and sharing our faith so that his word may bring about its intended goal, a glorious life with him forever.
Do I allow the Word of God to accomplish his will in my life or do I frustrate it? Is the seed of faith well planted in my life so that the Word of God will bear much fruit? Do I welcome and nourish his Word so that it may bring about its intended goal, everlasting life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.