Reflecting on today’s Gospel, one might wonder: Who is this reckless sower who scatters his precious and fertile seeds all over the place? What sort of farmer allows his seeds to fall on a path where the birds will eat them up? Why does he not mind that his life-giving seeds are falling on patches of rock where there is very little soil? Who is this sower who lets his excellent seeds fall among thorns that could potentially choke them? We know who he is: the sower is God himself, who gives his whole self in the gift of his Word, who is his Son. And the Son, Jesus Christ, is also a sower, even as he speaks this parable. He scatters the “word of the Kingdom” on every heart.
The Church places this parable alongside a passage from the prophet Isaiah where God compares the life-giving word which comes forth from his mouth to rain, which is water “from the heavens” that makes things grow. The word is like rain for our dry and thirsty souls! The power of the divine word is such that it is sure to succeed: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
In the parable, the creative, efficacious, and life-giving word of God is described as a precious and fertile seed. The question comes to us once more: if the word of God, the seed, is so precious, why does the sower seem to be so reckless, letting seeds fall everywhere? We can find part of the answer in the context in which this story is told. A severe division has been mounting between those who follow Jesus and those who refuse to accept his teaching. Many people have refused to repent, and the Pharisees have begun to plot to kill him. The parable of the sower, then, highlights the fact that what seems to be recklessness on the part of the sower is actually an image of God’s overflowing generosity and tremendous patience. Our heavenly Father “makes his sun to rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45). By allowing the seeds of his word to fall everywhere, that is, on people of different dispositions, he gives each of them an opportunity to bear fruit and so enjoy the glory of Heaven.
Fruitfulness, however, though it is so natural to the seed of the word, is not guaranteed to us. We are the ones who provide the seed with soil, and we have a say in what sort of soil we become. The parable challenges us to a sense of responsibility and diligence in our spiritual life. If we do nothing to strengthen our faith, deepen our hope, and increase our charity, we risk remaining barren, like the first three kinds of soil.
Active receptivity to the word of God is often difficult and challenging. St. Paul’s words to the Romans can inspire us to persevere: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” In other words, our hope for future glory keeps us going while we pass through the “labor pains” of our present sufferings. Effort and perseverance are crucial in the spiritual life. This is why Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Those who accept the teachings of Jesus and make efforts to understand and live by them will succeed, while those who make no effort will plunge into an abysmal failure.
Yes, everything we have comes to us by the merit of Jesus Christ and not because we earned it by our efforts. How, then, are we to understand the necessity of our cooperation, of the need to become “good soil”? The Catechism gives us a clear explanation: “The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit” (CCC 2008).
Everything, all graces and all blessings, are from God’s initiative and generosity, but our collaboration is needed, nevertheless. Our consent, faith, and active receptivity are needed. This means we must prepare the soil of our hearts – getting rid of rocks and thorns so that God can act in us through his life-giving word. This work of preparation is our constant effort of repentance and renewal, without which we cannot bear fruit and be saved. Quoting St. Augustine, the Catechism reminds us: “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us” (CCC 1847).
The Lord is not a reckless sower but a generous Father who desires the salvation of us all. He sent his Son into the world not to condemn but to save. Christ shed his Blood, the “Blood of the covenant … on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). Certainly, he died not only for “many” but for all (cf. 2 Cor 5:15), but not all will avail of the merits of his Precious Blood and be saved. In this month of July – the month of the Precious Blood of Jesus – let us welcome fully the life he offers us, and let us pray for the conversion of those who are still clinging to obstacles to the life-giving effects of the divine word.
How have I experienced God’s overflowing generosity and tremendous patience in my life? What are the obstacles that threaten the growth of the life of God in me? How am I preparing the soil of my heart to receive the seed of God’s Word?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.