It is amazing to me that this lush, green environment in which we live right now is the same one that in six months will be grim, barren, and brown. We have a relatively short growing season here in Michigan, and so everything has to grow very fast so it can produce a harvest before it gets cold again.
Jesus told numerous parables that had to do with growing things which his listeners could relate to. In the parable we heard in today’s Gospel, he talks about a “sower” who walks along sowing or planting seeds, and then what happens to those seeds. As we heard, some of the seeds did well: they produced a lot of fruit. Other seeds did not do well: they failed to produce fruit. And whether the seeds did well or not depended on what kind of soil they landed on.
Jesus doesn’t usually give explanations for his parables; he wants his listeners to use their heads and figure them out. But this time he does explain it, because he wants his message to be clear. And as he reveals when he explains the parable to his disciples, it is of course not really about agriculture but rather about how we respond to God and His word.
The seed of course is the Word of God, or the voice of God, which we hear in multiple ways: in Scripture, in the teachings of the Church, the writings of the Early Church Fathers and the Doctors of the Church, in prayer, and so on. The sower – the one who does the planting – of course is God Himself. And he scatters the seeds – in other words, he communicates to the world – very freely; he is not stingy about it. Indeed, God has spoken to us – the human race – again and again and again throughout history, and He continues to do so.
But, because God gave us free will, we can choose how we respond to Him, or even whether we respond to Him at all. And so even though God speaks to us, we don’t always hear him, or we don’t always listen to Him and respond. Jesus says in fact that it is not enough to just hear: we also have to act on what we have heard. If we do so, then we’ll bear fruit. If we don’t act on it, we will not bear fruit.
So what are some of the things that prevent as from acting on the word that God speaks to us? Jesus first mentions the seed that falls on the path and explains that it is: “the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.” This represents all those who hear God speaking to them in some way – whether that be through Scripture, the teachings of the Church, or one of the many other ways God tries to communicate with us – perhaps through the voice of our conscience, the words of a family member or friends who knows us well, sometimes through the interior movements of our own heart – and either pay no attention to it, ignore it, or can’t be bothered to try to understand what God might be saying. A word that sums up this response is apathy – not really caring if God is speaking or what he might be saying.
Then Jesus talks about the seed that falls on rocky ground, and explains that this is “the one who hears the word and receives it with joy; but it has no root, and as soon as some kind of difficulty or persecution comes along because of the word, “he immediately falls away.” This is anyone who first hears the word of God and receives it with excitement and enthusiasm; maybe for a time prays, goes to Church, and is what you might call a “faithful” Christian. But then suddenly that person is confronted with one of the demands of following the Lord; how they want to live their lives, what they want to do is in conflict with what God desires. Perhaps they live or work in an environment that doesn’t believe what the Church teaches, or ridicules it, or is even openly hostile to it. And so they kind of “go underground” with their faith, or they go along with society. This is especially the case these days in terms of what we believe about human sexuality and identity and what our society believes. So their initial fervor cools. Perhaps it’s not immediate, but little by little they stop praying everyday, they stop going to Church every Sunday; and eventually they have stopped altogether.
Then Jesus talks about “the seed sown among thorns”: this is “the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” This is the person who hears God’s word in their lives, listens to it, desires to act on it, and maybe even does act on it for awhile. But then money or work or family commitments or material possessions get in the way of the practice of the faith. They become too busy to pray, too busy to go to Mass, to busy to love and serve others. And their faith goes cold.
But these are not the only options here. There is also the final one: “the seed sown on rich soil”, “the one who hears the word and understands it.” This one, the only one among those types listed by Jesus, bears fruit, and bears an abundance of it. This is the one who hears the word of God, who hears God’s voice, listens to it, pays attention to it, actively seeks to understand it, and then acts on it, according to God’s will. Jesus makes it clear that this is the right one; all the others end up not bearing lasting fruit.
We are meant to bear fruit! That is what the Lord desires of each one of us. He has a plan for each one of us that he desires us to fulfill. It differs from person to person: some are called to serve the Lord in one way, others in another way. Some do great things; others do little things. But they all bear fruit. And this fruit is love. Bearing fruit means growing in God’s love: loving God more and more, and doing God’s will out of love. And bearing fruit means growing in love of neighbor: loving and serving them according to God’s will, doing what is truly best for them.
And we bear this fruit by cultivating our relationship with the Lord through prayer, the sacraments, acts of charity, acts of mercy. That’s what nourishes the seed that God has already planted in our hearts. So let us hear the Lord as He speaks in our lives; let us listen to Him and act on His word, so that we might bear fruit.