Those simple words begin one of the most compelling parables in the Gospel— a story that has much to teach us not only about gardening and growing, but also about listening. Listening to the Word of God. Being receptive to it. Being open to it.
That can be hard to do, when there is so much noise in the world distracting us from God and trying to drown out his Word.
But there is something very hopeful to this parable that I’d like all of us to consider this morning.
First, as much as this famous parable is about our being open to God and the seeds that He sends our way, it is also about God’s eagerness to share those seeds.
This is a story about God’s extravagant generosity – and his boundless love.
The sower doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t pick and choose. He scatters his seeds — His Word, His Truth — anywhere and everywhere. He doesn’t hold back. He is generous beyond measure with what he has to offer. He knows that it will somehow reach the richest soil.
It might even be in the most unexpected of places.
I think of Thomas Merton – a jaded, jazz-loving, cigarette-smoking, girl-chasing writer who drifted from being an indifferent Protestant to being a communist – and then, in the middle of his wanderings, discovered the poetry of the Catholic writer William Blake. That led him to explore the Catholic Church and eventually to convert. He fell madly, deeply in love with God. Merton became a Trappist monk and writer. He stands today as one of the influential Catholic writers of the 20th century.
Even among the thorns of Merton’s confused and complicated life, God’s seed found rich soil.
It happens again and again in our history – from St. Paul to St. Augustine to St. Ignatius to Dorothy Day and beyond. The soil they sprang from wasn’t always ideal. We are a church of rocks, and thorns, besieged by birds – and yet, amid this vast and surprising garden, God’s smallest seeds find fertile ground. His Word takes root.
Which brings me to one other significant point in this parable. It bears remembering.
In this story, the sower doesn’t change. The seed doesn’t change.
What changes is the soil.
What changes are the conditions that allow the seed to be planted.
What changes is the environment that lets the seed bear fruit.
What changes, in fact…is us.
And we may never know where, or how, it will happen.
Christie Martin grew up in a Protestant family. Eventually, like a lot of young people she drifted into New Age, neo-paganism. One day, out of curiosity, she found herself sitting in a mass in a Catholic Church. She later described herself as “watching it like I’d watch a National Geographic nature film.” She was expecting to be bored, or amused.
But then she heard the chanting of the responsorial psalm.
And she realized: this is something that goes back further, and deeper, than she ever imagined. There were connections here, she realized, to ancient Judaism. Christie had never seen that anywhere before. And as the mass went on, she realized this was something both ancient, and new. A great story of God’s relationship with man was continuing.
At the moment of consecration, it hit her: “What if all this were actually true?”
As she wrote about it later, her conversion took all of three seconds.
She put it bluntly: “I was hit repeatedly in the head with a 2 x 4…”
Listen to what she wrote:
“It was beautiful and exquisite and utterly horrifying,” she wrote. “I saw things, felt things, all in quick succession with the complete clarity of the words, ‘It is all true,’ ringing me like a bell. Jesus himself was upon that altar, and I was done for. It was true. I could never again deny the truth of it, but I could still deny Him. A yes would cost me every friend I had, the community I’d built, my reputation. Everything. Was I willing to give it all up? Oh, God, yes.”
She joined the Church a few months later, along with her husband. God’s seed took root, grew, flourished.
It is happening again and again. This morning, every morning, God sets about doing his great work: a Sower goes out to sow. He sows in a world tangled with doubt and disbelief, shaded and clouded by forces that don’t want the seed to grow, that would prefer that the planet be an arid desert.
And yet: God sows. With abandon. With exuberance. With love.
He never stops.
Confronted with that extravagant generosity, we confront the question buried in the heart of this gospel: are we willing to help Him?
Are we willing to listen? To keep our minds and hearts open to His word?
Are we willing to clear away some of the weeds and rocks in our lives – whatever pride or cynicism or distraction is getting in the way — and give those seeds a chance?
Are we ready to receive what the sower has to offer?
No matter what the condition of our soil, no matter how barren the ground or thorny the field, each of us can bring forth a great harvest.
At the end of Leonard Bernstein’s musical, “Candide,” after the central characters have survived every kind of calamity imaginable, from war to earthquakes and worse, they sing of the hope of a better tomorrow, a new Eden.
“We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good.
We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow.”
The sower is at work. The seeds are being scattered. Are we ready to help His garden grow?
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