Over the last two Sundays and a daily mass in between in between, we have been hearing the parables where Christ describes the Kingdom through the imagery of the sower and the seeds, and we also heard Psalm with the same imagery. Here is the version read two Sundays ago
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
Listening to the parable, the thought crossed my mind – what about those seeds that fall on the rocky ground? It kinda sounded like wherever they fall determined whether they grew or not. The responsorial Psalm from that Sunday read, “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” What, and the seed that doesn’t fall on good ground, too bad for it? I mean, isn’t the sower placing those seeds? Why doesn’t the sower just place the seeds all in good soil? He’s the sower, right? Is this predetermination or something? Whatever situation you’re born determines into determines your salvation?
That wasn’t Jesus point at all. At the end of the parable Christ says: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Christ wants to open the ears and hearts of his disciples and those listening to him speak. When his disciples press Christ for an explanation of the parable, he goes on to say:
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.
He’s talking about the receptivity of the seed- that’s what the soil/stones/weeds is about. The people have chosen to chose their eyes so that they will not see. Christ is saying, if only you’d open your eyes, you would understand with your hearts and I would heal you! But for this interior conversion to happen, the seed has to be receptive, the seed has to accept the grace and to choose to be a part of the relationship with the sower.
In last Sunday’s Gospel, the theme is the same although the story is a little different:
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. (Mt 13:24-43)
I think the key phrase here is that the enemy came “while everyone was asleep.” The Master “sowed good seeds” but while everyone was asleep, not paying attention, not listening, not aware, the enemy came in. So again Christ is telling us to listen, to be awake, to live an examined life with the help of the Spirit who “searches hearts” (as the second reading from Romans 8 read that same Sunday).
So Christ is knocking on the door as the good Sower, inviting us to be receptive to his grace, and teaching us to live in awareness. I think we could also say that just as we are called to tend to the garden of our own inner life, we are also called to nurture and enrich the soil of others’ souls. Are we birds that pick at other’s seeds? Do we sow weeds in other’s hearts? Or do we practice of life of awareness and share whatever abundance has been given to us for the good of others?
Over these same past few weeks we’ve been hearing the sower and seed parables, I’ve been reading two books lately, Dr. M. Scott Peck’s The Road less Traveled: A New
Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth and C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. Both authors talk about spiritual health and love. Scott Peck was a psychiatrist of the old generation, who practiced psychotherapy in a close relationship with his clients. In this book, he shares the richness of his perspective on life from his many years of working with people. He writes alot about spiritual growth, discipline, and relationships and says this about love: it is a “strangely circular process.” He says “Since I am human and you are human, to love humans means to love myself as well as you. To be dedicated to human spiritual development is to be dedicated to the race of which we are a part, and this therefore means dedication to our own development as well as “theirs.”…we are incapable of loving another unless we love ourselves…We cannot be a source of strength unless we nurture our own strength.” (p.82)
So working on your own inner spiritual growth and receptivity is organically linked to nurturing others. You can’t water the soil of others hearts if you have none to give, and if you have some to give, then nurturing others should become a natural extension of your own spiritual growth. Not that natural means easy. Scott Peck also says that “When we love someone our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion – through the fact that for that someone (or for ourself) we take an extra step or walk an extra mile. Love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful.” And therefore, to make that effort to receive love from God or others and then to return in it a circular way to others and God, is a choice. “Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” (p. 83)
God is the sower and giver of all grace, but He leaves it up to us what is done with that seed of grace. What does the garden of our inner life look like? Here we will turn to C.S. Lewis, who says in the introduction to Four Loves that “a man’s spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God.” (p.214) The more we open our ears and our hearts to receive the love of God, the more we will be able to give and receive love from others – and thus the more rich, healthy and fruitful our souls will be. But C.S. Lewis also says that we must be aware, too, of the nature of our souls before the Sower – that He is the source, and before Him, being in need is “man’s highest, healthiest and most realistic spiritual condition” (p.214). That “in the long run it is perhaps even more apparent in our growing – for it ought to be growing – awareness that our whole being by its very nature is one vast need: incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose.” So let us cry out for Him! And extend ourselves in love. Whoever has ears ought to hear. Mt 13:1-9